How to Localize Coverage of the Presidential Election to Capture the Untold Story


This is an updated version of a blog post from January. 

As election primaries and caucuses make national news daily, finding the funds to send front-line staff may be out of the question – especially for smaller news organizations.

It’s an all too common tale for today’s media.

Newsrooms are changing. Technology is being pushed to the forefront. All the while budgets are tightening.

But just because you’re not on the campaign trail doesn’t mean you don’t have an interesting story to tell. If anything, telling the untold stories of your community may be the most distinctive – and most relevant – to your audience.

During a recent Poynter seminar, Tampa Bay Times Political Editor Adam Smith shared some of the key ways local news organizations can plug in to the conversation without being embedded in the national stumping tour.

Here are six ways to give your audience smart and meaningful coverage from your home seat.

1. Find local players advocating for the candidates.

We’re in the third month of primaries and caucuses, and getting closer to determining which two candidates will face off in the November 8 election.  These critical, remaining states will help set the tone for the rest of the campaign.

To tap into the conversation locally, find the people in your city or state that are most passionate about the candidates. Who’s making phone calls late into the night? What issues are they most connected to? Who’s being dispatched on behalf of the candidates? How will they drive conversation after the first set of results are in?

Human-interest stories from behind the scenes can help personalize the news and attract readers.  This is especially true for deep red or deep blue states that usually don’t get attention for their campaign efforts, said Smith.

2. Follow the money trail.

Campaign donations are always a hot-button issue. Dive in on local money to see who’s giving from your area and how much they candidates are raising in your city or state.

To get hyperlocal, use sites like and to find donations by zip code. To dig in on the power donors and campaign bundlers, check the sites of the campaigns themselves. You may be able to identify local names and explore their vested interests in the candidate.

If you want to see where “politicians are breaking bread and sipping cocktails with donors,” the Sunlight Foundation’s Political Party Time provides the scoop on the latest fundraising events.

3. Drill narrow and drill deep on the issues.

“All politics is local,” Smith said, riffing off an old quote by AP Washington Bureau Chief Byron Price from 1932. Even broad issues like immigration, fracking, and defense cuts resonate all the way down to the neighborhood level.

For example, said Smith, we know what Donald Trump’s talk of building a wall means for Texas. But, what does it mean for your city or state? Or, say a local military base is rumored to close. What’s the potential economic impact to your town’s residents and businesses?

The key is to drill down to see how proposed policies might affect your reader community. Find clips of the candidates speaking about the issues and plug in local voices, said Smith.

4. Investigate the strange bedfellows.

One of the most interesting ways to get local may be tracking down the unlikely companions or allies of the candidates from your state. To find them, sniff around local fundraising parties and donor lists, said Smith.

Is the Mayor of your town on the invite list for a local Hillary event? Who did he or she support in the past? What’s changed? You may find that a local politician or lobbyist has changed their tune – and the reason why could make for an interesting story.

5. Use social apps to follow the buzz. 

Social media and live streams can put you on the scene virtually. They also allow you to see what people are talking about, providing you with an array of potential sources and story ideas. 

Facebook and Twitter can help you find local groups, how and where they gather, who’s involved, and what they’re talking about. To go a bit deeper, try to get an all access pass to a live event to see first-hand photos, videos and reactions from people nearby.

With any luck, you may come across a quick-witted response, like this one from the Mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida., that could drive your coverage locally – and perhaps even thrust your local outlet into the national spotlight.

6. Pay attention to the polls.

Finally, explore the polls. Compare the upcoming exit polls to both the opinion polls and that of past elections, said Smith. You can find 2012 voter data by state here.

To tune in to opinions on a hyperlocal level, conduct your own informal poll. Insert yourself in to the conversation by attending a local event or debate watch party. Aside from social media, is good resource to use to find the action.

Want to know when an official poll is set to come out? Sign up on Real Clear Politics and HuffPost Pollster for email notifications. 270 to Win keeps tabs on public opinion around potential match-ups, too.

Ramping up for 2016 election coverage? We can create a customized PR Newswire newsfeed of political campaign news for you. It’s easy. Sign up for PRNJ today and don’t miss out on what’s being said about the race.

Anna Jasinski is manager of audience relations at PR Newswire. Follow her team’s curated feed of election news at @PRNPolicy. You can also catch her sharing media news at @annamjasinski and @BeyondBylines.

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