Issues important to voters will lead the Your Voice Ohio media project

By Ashley Bunton - Staff Columnist

The future of Ohio news media looks exciting.

Last week I attended the Ohio News Media Association convention as a panel member to discuss what Ohio media learned during the 2016 election.

My panel co-chairs were Doug Oplinger, managing editor at the Akron Beacon Journal, John Green, political science professor at the University of Akron and director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, and Curt Steiner, CEO of Steiner Public Relations and former chief of staff for Ohio Governor George Voinovich.

We discussed how, despite political trifle circulating about how out of touch the media is, Ohio news media editors and reporters began an exciting new project during the 2016 election year: the Your Vote Ohio project.

I learned about the project at the 2016 Law and Media Conference at the Ohio State Bar Association in Columbus and decided to bring it back with me to southwest Ohio.

The Your Vote Ohio project, a collaborative effort among TV, newspaper and radio media, worked to develop election news that reflected the voice of Ohio residents. The project was secured with $750,000 from the Knight Foundation. The foundation invests in states where the Knight brothers published newspapers. According to the foundation’s website, the brothers “believed that a well-informed community could best determine its own true interests and was essential to a well-functioning, representative democracy.” By all measures, the Your Vote Ohio project was a reflection of that belief and was a year-long success across the state.

For the project, reporters from media outlets across Ohio gathered information and interviews from residents, asking open-ended questions about the election issues and candidates. This allowed us to develop broader coverage of issues faced by people across the state, as we soon realized the political issues were more important to Ohio voters than were the political candidates.

I mentioned during the panel, however, that I noticed there is a disconnect between media outlets and rural Ohioans. It seems that while people look to the nearest city for their news, the media outlets in the nearest city do not look to the rural people for its news. Reporters need to do a better job of connecting to people. Instead of reporting “about” the people reporters think they represent, they need to report “from” the perspective of the people they truly represent.

Moving forward this year, the Your Vote Ohio project will continue and transform into the Your Voice Ohio project. The nonpartisan Jefferson Center will be involved to help with the project and I volunteered to take the lead on issues people face in southwest Ohio. The Jefferson Center recently collected county-by-county data that will be used in future stories, which you can expect to see in the next couple of months.

By providing data, graphics, statistics and charts, we hope you will have the information you need to be able to make informed decisions about the important issues affecting you and your communities. You can also expect to see more photos and videos, meet reporters who really listen to what you have to say, and have your voices lifted out of darkness into credible and meaningful conversations across various news platforms.

It’s an exciting time to be a reporter, and I am grateful that we are working together to create a bigger project to solve our biggest problems: economy, jobs, health care, immigration, the drug epidemic, and education. These important issues for Ohioans need solutions that work, and working together, we will find and deliver the truth.

By Ashley Bunton

Staff Columnist

Reach Ashley at (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton

Reach Ashley at (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton