By Sharon McGowan
INN Amplify Collaborations Leader
Chicago elected its first African-American woman and openly gay mayor on April 2, and the date also marked the culmination of Chi.vote, a hugely successful collaborative journalism project geared toward educating voters about the municipal elections.
Fernando Diaz, editor of The Chicago Reporter, called the project a “fantastic” success.
“We did something together that we’d never done before, and hadn’t been done in Chicago,” he said, adding that users had an overwhelmingly positive experience.
The Better Government Association (BGA), The Chicago Reporter and Block Club Chicago, all INN Amplify members, were also founding members of Chi.vote, along with The Daily Line and The TRiiBE. Contributors included Chalkbeat Chicago and City Bureau, also INN Amplify members. Univision translated the content into Spanish and made it available to a Spanish-speaking audience.
Amplify is INN’s project to help roughly 30 members across the Midwest do collaborative journalism and track and understand the impact of that collaboration.
The Chi.vote website, a free nonpartisan guide for voters, pointed users to three different paths: “Where do I start?” “I’m ready to learn” and “I’m ready to vote!”
“We made it simple for people to enter the site at whatever level they were at,” said Starlyn Matheny, marketing manager at BGA.
According to Matheny, about 70,000 users visited the site, which provided information during a citywide election and runoff — five weeks apart — about the candidates and issues, how to register, and when and where to vote. It also included original reporting about the races for mayor, city clerk, city treasurer and aldermen and links to coverage by mainstream media. Newly elected mayor Lori Lightfoot will take office on May 20.
“The fact that we were all able to work together under two big looming deadlines to get this done, while running our respective nonprofit newsrooms was amazing,” added Stephanie Lulay, managing editor of Block Club Chicago. She noted that Chi.vote was particularly valuable for her readers because of the wealth of information about specific issues in the 50 aldermanic races.
The collaboration was successful because all of the partners were on equal footing, despite different funding structures and operating models, according to Matheny.
“Being open and honest is key to a good partnership among nonprofit newsrooms,” she said. The partners made sure everything published on Chi.vote met the journalistic standards of the participating organizations.
Among the challenges partners identified were overlapping audiences and the fact that many organizations offered voter guides.
“We had to cut through a lot of noise to get through to voters,” Diaz noted. In the future, he would like to see additional partners participate, so the content could be distributed more broadly, he said.
The project demonstrated that these types of partnerships can work and paved the way for future collaborations.
“We developed capacity for collaboration in a town that doesn’t normally operate like that,” Diaz said. “We learned things that we can incorporate immediately into our collaborative behavior.”
INN Chief Network Officer Jonathan Kealing said Chi.vote is exactly the sort of collaboration Amplify hopes to encourage and enable.
“The Amplify project is all about helping members do better journalism through collaboration. When we work together, we help make great work travel farther,” he said. “We’re excited to build on this collaboration in the future, and to help our members make many other connections across the Midwest.”