Journalists on the campaign trail mend trust with the public

Next year, the 2024 presidential election season begins in earnest, and with it, our profession’s attempt to make sense of who and where we are as a country. I’ve gotten way into meditating during the pandemic, and so I offer this mantra on repeat to my colleagues to help guide our reporting over the next two years: Vox populi, vox dei, which is Latin, not Sanskrit, for “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”

I’m intentionally reclaiming this phrase from Elon Musk because part of what is broken about politics and journalism (aside from Twitter) is our broken faith with voters. My prediction and prayer for 2023 is that we look to mend that trust.

We launched The 19th almost three years ago at the start of the 2020 primary season, determined to tell a different story about our politics, one that more fully reflects our democracy. Shifting that narrative means shifting who we center in our political journalism. Candidates matter, but by focusing on voters and the issues that matter to them, we are able to tell a story that gets away from horse race coverage, polls obsessed with who’s up or who’s down, or what the day’s turn-of-the-screw development means for one party or politician.

Our logo includes an asterisk that serves as a type of editorial North Star, a daily reminder of whose lives remain unseen and unheard in our country. Aiming to better understand what motivates people to participate — or not — in our politics is how we get past seeing our fellow citizens as “single-issue voters.”

Imagine how different our campaign coverage would be if we treated the entire cycle like one big debate, focused on the priorities we poll people about, but rarely follow up on. What does it mean for someone to say they feel the country is “headed in the wrong direction”? When someone says their “top issue” is the economy, or healthcare, or racism, we should circle back and ask them to elaborate — and to tell us what else could influence their behavior at the ballot box.

The 2024 election is also a new opportunity to challenge conventional editorial decisions about who voters are, what they look like, and what matters to them, their families and their communities. For too long, our default setting as journalists for those who have power (and this includes voters) has been white, cisgender, and male. Nearly 60 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, there is still much progress to be made to make real the promise of “one person, one vote” in our democracy.

The folks on the bus will be focused on our next president and don’t always have time to talk to voters who aren’t on rope lines or in diners, so why shouldn’t the rest of us get out there, meet some Americans and ask them what they care about?

Elections surprise us when we fail to get to know the electorate. Starting on New Year’s Day, we will have 674 days to meet them, and to execute journalism that meets the moment. Let us resolve to tell their stories, so that we may leave behind a more honest and accurate record of our collective story up to and on Election Day.

Errin Haines is the editor at large of The 19th.

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