Community engagement roadshow: How the Canton Repository used watch parties to open conversations
Watching the watchers. That’s one way the Canton Repository handled last year’s emotionally charged election cycle. As the presidential and VP debates grabbed huge TV numbers, the braintrust at the Repository figured that rather than simply asking voters what they thought of the debates, they could learn more by observing their reactions.
So, Executive Editor Rich Desrosiers and others invited a half-dozen readers into their newsroom to watch a pair of debates. The group ranged from a 46-year-old woman who was concerned about rights for gay people and transgender people, to a 70-year-old former mayor, to a 90-year-old former realtor who wanted to discuss tax breaks.
Although they had different viewpoints, the group felt comfortable opening up with each other, including Richard Currie, who was a Trump supporter before the debates began.
The media’s fixation with Trump’s character, when many accepted former President Bill Clinton’s sexual misbehavior as president, rather than the issues of the economy, immigration terrorism and law and order, strengthened his support for Trump.
The panel included four Democrats and two Republicans, although GOP backer Carmen Hunt had vowed not to vote for Trump.
“When he could not say that he could not accept the election outcome, that’s very dangerous,” Hunt said, according to the story. “He could have people rioting in the streets, and he could not even be gracious to say ‘yes, if she wins, I will accept it.’ At that point, I knew then this man is irrational and unstable. He doesn’t even understand what his words do.”
While the majority of the panel insisted they’d vote for Clinton, that didn’t mesh with the rest of the county. According to the Stark County Board of Elections, Trump received more than 98,000 votes, compared to just over 68,000 for Clinton.
And although the six-person panel provided some interesting insights, Desrosiers and his staff didn’t stop there. They reached out with younger voters, looking for more voices.
Desrosiers tells the rest of the story from here:
We hooked up with the University of Mount Union (in Alliance) after we saw students on Twitter on the first debate night. They were tweeting during the debate, using a hashtag that we were also using. Repository education reporter Kelli Weir had been communicating with districts about their plans for watching the debate, and Alliance and GlenOak were the most actively watching and having the kids do things other than sit on a couch and watch TV.
We tried to have the Alliance high school kids come to our place to watch the VP debate with GlenOak students, but our office was deemed too far from Alliance to be out that late, so we moved to Plan B: reporter Jessica Holbrook went to Mount Union and met with the Alliance high school kids there for the later presidential debate. A Mount Union professor and Alliance HS teacher were friendly and worked together to get the kids involved with the college group so they felt welcome.
The Alliance kids had watched other debates on their own, then went to the college for the last one. The college projected their Twitter feed along with the regular one so kids could follow along during the debate. The Alliance kids seemed thrilled that we asked about them, then more thrilled when we asked if we could watch with them.
Here’s the link to the article after the GlenOak High School kids came to our office to watch the vice presidential debate and here’s the link to the article featuring the University of Mount Union and Alliance High School watch party.
The success really was simply a matter of a lot of advance emailing and asking questions to find a way to make this all come together.