COURIER in 2022
The 2022 midterm cycle could have been democracy’s last stand. The shadow of January 6, the fall of Roe v Wade, an epidemic of election deniers — all fueled by disinformation — signaled the 2022 midterm as more than an average election. The fate of democracy was on the ballot.
COURIER — cited as a “media powerhouse for the left” by Wired — recognized the stakes of the election and the right-wing authoritarian threats earlier than any other media organization. Driven by our mission to preserve and protect democracy by increasing civic participation, COURIER and our eight battleground state digital newsrooms delivered good, quality information to under-reached audiences in the places they actually get their news: online in their social media feeds and email inboxes.
The Americans who comprise our audiences have been left behind by the paywalls, stratification, and both-sidesism of legacy media and national newspapers. They get their news instead by scrolling their social media newsfeeds for free, and because of this, they are more likely to fall prey to bad actors and right-wing media outlets online sowing 24/7 lies and conspiracy theories to further their own quest for power. Our audience do not vote regularly – 50% of them voted for the first time after 2016 — but when supplied with year-round engagement and reporting that connects the dots between their lives communities and the politics politicians who make decisions that impact them directly, our research has proven they are more likely to vote – and over time, can be converted into lifelong, regular voters. We meet these millions of Americans with good information that matters before the lies can influence their relationship to democracy, and are strengthening democracy in the process.
Predicted to be a “red wave,” marked by historic losses for the Democratic party, the midterm elections proved the pundits and pollsters wrong, especially in COURIER states.
- • Democratic governors won election or re-election in 2024 firewall states Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin
- • Democratic senators or senators-elect held or flipped U.S. Senate seats in COURIER states Arizona and Pennsylvania
- • Election deniers were defeated in key Secretary of State races in COURIER states Arizona and Michigan
- • Democratic candidates for Attorney General saw victories in COURIER states Arizona, Michigan, and Wisconsin
- • A ballot measure to protect reproductive freedom passed in COURIER state Michigan
- • State legislative victories in Michigan flipped the State House and Senate, giving the Democratic party a governing trifecta for the first time in 40 years, and the first time in U.S. history a women-led majority will run the state of Michigan
- • Pennsylvania Democrats won control of the State House for the first time in 12 years
WHAT WE DID TO MAKE IT HAPPEN
COURIER’s network of more than 1 million online subscribers across eight newsrooms in key states allows us to deliver crucial information to under-reached audiences. Our content contextualizes and localizes from Washington and state capitals, driving home every day impact of policies and policy-makers, and increasing our left-leaning share of voice- and facts, in the online spaces that matter most.
Building Local Trust
Staffed by local journalists who live in the states they cover, our newsrooms know the importance of building trust within the communities they serve. Across our eight states and 75+ member team, our newsrooms strive to become trusted local sources for news, human interest stories, and information. This allows our teams to tell strategic stories that inform and instill a sense of agency and empowerment in our readers to motivate civic participation. In Arizona, for example, our team at The Copper Courier, was able to break a story about a Republican legislative candidate wearing blackface. Because they are the most trusted local source for news, they were given an exclusive tip about this story, and could quickly verify it, leading to wide pickup of their breaking news story. Here, Copper’s managing editor explains how:
But Copper Courier didn’t just break news that state, national, and international outlets picked up. The team knew this information had to be shared repeatedly with their audience to drive home the impact. Their insight into what makes information sticky — and why it matters to their community — impacted that race’s election outcome. The extremist candidate lost by 2.5 points, to a Democrat who previously lost that district by 20.
Boosting Our Content
For years, COURIER has been testing the hypothesis that our content impacts outcomes, as long as people see it. Randomized Control Tests (RCT) experiments in the 2021 Virginia elections and the 2022 Iowa Primary showed us that more of our folks get out to vote when we boost news from our outlets into their social media feeds. In Michigan, our experiment found that boosting our coverage on reproductive freedom led to increased opposition to recriminalizing abortion by four points and a growth in support for Governor Whitmer’s plans to protect that freedom.
With the support from COURIER underwriting partners, we ran an ambitious boosted news program that targeted 10 high profile, competitive races across seven states. Gaining nearly 100MM impressions, our boosted news programs targeted and reached essential voters for both state and federal races. While we will not know the full impact of these advertising programs until state voter file data is released in the new year, we believe that these programs, like those tested in the past, ensured more of our low-turnout voters showed up to vote, and moved the needle, in a crucial year for pro-democracy candidates and issues.
Innovative Distribution Tactics
COURIER understands the rapidly shifting landscape of how people consume news and information. By being laser focused on our audience — and where they spend their time — we stay ahead of the trends and capitalize on opportunities to innovate. Which is why we capitalized on the popularity and success of vertical video social content ahead of the election.
Our deputy editor for social media Victoria Leandra trained several of our journalists to package their reporting for platforms like TikTok and Instagram Reels — platforms that have increasing reach with younger voters and our underserved audiences. She also piloted a trusted messengers program with state-based influencers, using our newsroom content to create videos for their trusted followers. This rapidly-scaled program delivered critical information and stories about the stakes of the midterm elections to more than 1.3 million people in Pennsylvania alone — through known, trusted, personalities.
Here, Victoria explains:
Stories That Move The Needle
At COURIER, we know we have to do more than flood the zone with good information. Our strategy is simple: tell the stories that matter in the smartest way, and tell it often enough that it shifts peoples’ opinions.
We don’t just break hard hitting political news, but also engage audiences with human interest, cultural and lifestyle content that fills a need other local news organizations are failing to provide to audiences on social media, keeping them informed and engaged with their local communities. When we do publish political coverage, our reporters center their reporting on issues that people care about, like reproductive freedom and extremists in their local government, and connect the dots between our audience, those issues, and politics through local, human stories.
A case study from Michigan this cycle hammers home how COURIER’s layered approach to political coverage leverages community connection and the most relevant narrative “drumbeats” that are necessary to move voters to take action.
When Roe fell with the Dobbs decision leak in spring 2022, reproductive freedom became the biggest voting issue in Michigan, a state with an antiquated trigger ban still on the books. With polling partners, our team ran a poll in Michigan that found six in 10 Michiganders opposed re-criminalization of abortion. We knew that was an important statistic to share with our audience-but it wouldn’t stick unless told through a local and human lens.
When looking for a source, we went straight to northern Michigan-in the newly redistricted 103, a competitive but stretch state house district where turnout would have an outsized impact on the entire state- it was the lynchpin flip seat to secure a majority.
Telling personal stories to humanize policies makes an impact. An impact multiplies tenfold when the person is a member of your community.
We knew no other outlet in the region would have the capacity to localize reproductive freedom coverage, and we also knew voters in the 103 would decide between an anti-choice incumbent, and a fierce advocate for reproductive freedom.
Our analytics team designed an experiment to test the impact of The Gander’s story and when the experiment concluded, we saw a four point jump in opposition to recriminalizing abortion in our state.
Through our unique model of content organizing, we were able to rapidly scale this personal and impactful content to reach our target audience on a hyper-local level. We also layered in coverage of anti-choice extremists in hyper local races in the region, knowing the margins would be razor thin.
That district flipped by 750 votes, securing the first Democratic majority in the State House in 40 years. Local news matters. COURIER’s model for local news delivers measurable results. The communities our newsrooms serve are the direct beneficiaries.
COURIER IN THE NEWS
We are building the largest left-leaning media network in America, and it’s making a difference both in bettering the information environment millions of Americans live in today, and strengthening our democracy. But our work on the ground requires support from leaders in mission-aligned and media landscapes, which is why we’re thrilled to see legacy outlets taking notice of the value a news network like COURIER has in strengthening and protecting our democracy.
Columbia Journalism Review: “A Good Information spokesperson told the Tow Center that Courier is a legitimate network of newsrooms—saying that Courier is investing in real on-the-ground reporting; that it discloses its funders and values transparency; and that the newsrooms follow industry guidelines on fact-checking, corrections, bylines, and the separation between reporting and opinion.”
WIRED Magazine: “”The best antidote to disinformation,” McGowan says, “is increasing the volume of good, factual information” in the places where low-quality information is spreading.’”
Washington Post: ““[Courier] has gone to extensive lengths to try to earn journalistic credibility. At Courier, McGowan has gone to extensive lengths to try to earn journalistic credibility for her newsrooms, which publish on sites with names like UpNorthNews in Wisconsin and The Gander in Michigan. Their coverage is far broader than just election news…”
Columbia Journalism Review: “The Gander, like Courier’s other seven newsrooms, avoids what’s called ‘bothsidesism.’ The basic idea being that there’s a tendency in journalism to represent both sides of an argument, which presents things as equal, although they might not be.”
COURIER BY THE NUMBERS
The threat to democracy did not disappear after the midterms. While campaigns unravel and electoral organizations regroup for the 2024 fight ahead, COURIER’s newsrooms keep doing exactly what they have been doing every single day – telling the stories that matter to Americans, reaching them with the facts, and engaging them in their local, state and national government. Our teams will be closely covering state legislative sessions in their statehouses, implementation of the Biden administration’s historic legislation victories on the ground, and growing a trusted community of millions of Americans who, when reached authentically and in a sustaining way, are the difference makers in elections big and small.
We also know investing in COURIER’s model builds infrastructure beyond just our newsrooms. We test, hone, and share our most effective content strategies and distribution tactics with ally organizations and newsrooms throughout our states, and have built a program to increase our collective share of voice online to scale next year. We do this work because we know that in order to win the war for our democracy, we have to keep winning the information war.
Join us as a founding supporter of COURIER today, and be part of a family of supporters who are building the most influential left-leaning media network in the nation. We can’t do this work without you, and we can’t afford not to keep it going and growing with your help.
To find out how to support our work or for more information please reach out to COURIER’s Head of Partnerships, firstname.lastname@example.org.