A group of Ohio broadcasters and newspapers met in December and agreed that Ohioans receive short shrift in the democratic process. For one, their voices aren’t heard above the programmed political rhetoric, and two, the candidates aren’t held accountable to the concerns of the people.
Out of that grew The Ohio Media Project, a group of more than a dozen major news outlets determined to give voice to Ohioans in a series of stories known as Your Vote Ohio.
Already, projects have been published on Ohio’s high level of disgust with government, and the seriously deteriorating Ohio economy.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation gave $175,000 to the nonpartisan civic engagement group Jefferson Center and the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron to assist Knight’s hometown paper, the Akron Beacon Journal, in facilitating the statewide project. The group also received support from the Akron Community Foundation and independent, anonymous Akron donors.
Additional support is being sought to insure that all major metro areas are represented in the research and reporting.
Funding will pay for statewide polling, which will guide the news organizations in discerning the concerns of Ohioans, and deliberative sessions facilitated by the Jefferson Center, which will help news organizations understand how best to serve the voters.
The first round of polling is in the field and will be reported in late May or early June.
Knight also is supporting the news organizations’ efforts to engage citizens through social media, with the Jefferson Center guiding that effort on the Your Vote Ohio Facebook page and #YourVoteOhio on Twitter.
The Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit group from New York, will provide training to Akron-Canton area media on how to identify solutions to problems identified by residents, among them the onslaught of negative political ads that occur every four years.
The foundation for the Akron role in the project comes from the 2012 America Today/Ohio Civility Project, in which the Bliss Institute, the Akron faith community and the Beacon Journal conducted polling and 25 focus groups exploring the growing tension in politics and public conversation.
Citizens blamed the media as the number one facilitator in the angry dialog that was dividing the country.
The December media meeting grew out of an October retreat assembled by the National Institute for Civil Discourse, based in Tucson and Washington, D.C. The NICD, formed at the University of Arizona as a result of the assassination attempt on the life of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, of Tucson, Arizona, has created a Text Talk Vote engagement program to help Ohioans discuss tough issues in the election.