Resources for covering the 2020 election as a student journalist

Covering the upcoming election as a student journalist can be daunting — but it’s crucial. Student media coverage helps to inform young voters. 

The youth vote is always important, but could be especially so in 2020. In 2018, 40.3 percent of college students voted in the midterm, according to Tufts. That’s up from just 19.3 percent in 2014. 

But many student reporters are new to covering elections, so the Student Press Law Center collected some story ideas and resources to help them get started. 

Story Ideas:

  • A guide to voting for the first time:
    • How can students register to vote?
    • How can students find their polling place?
    • When are deadlines for mail in or absentee ballots?
    • What are voters’ options for mailing in ballots, dropping them off, early voting or voting on election day?
    • Where can students find a sample ballot?
  • What are the roadblocks to students voting in your area?
  • How can voters minimize risk of COVID-19 exposure while voting?
  • Cover the election events going on around campus.
  • Who did students in your state vote for based on demographic data?
  • How does voter turnout compare to past elections? 
  • Break down state and local candidates’ campaign platforms into a few bullet points — it’ll make it easier and digestible for students to choose who they’re voting for.
  • Consider having your editorial board endorse local candidates.

There are plenty of resources (made for professional journalists) out there that you can apply to your reporting. Here are some of the most helpful:

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — 2020 Election Legal Guide

This guide breaks down the legal issues that may impact your reporting on the primaries and general election. It includes information on journalists’ right to report at polling places, using “ballot selfies” and laws on photography near polling places. There’s also a Spanish language version of the guide.

The Reporter’s Committee also has a legal hotline you can call if you have questions about the guide. (For student media specific questions, call the Student Press Law Center’s legal hotline.)

Society of Professional Journalists — Journalist’s Toolbox: 2020 Election Resources

This toolbox includes different websites journalists can go to for ethical guidance in covering elections, demographics tools, data tip sheets and more.

APM Research Lab — Representing US: Voter Profile Tools

This resource provides data visualizations for voter demographics in each state, making it easy to see how voters in your state and district breakdown by age, race, and immigration status.

Pay attention to APM’s “Notes About Use” at the bottom of the page. It tells you how to embed the graphics, cite them and post them on social media.

National Scholastic Press Association — Campaign 2020 Photo Exchange

NSPA created a photo exchange for student journalists. If your school is an NSPA member, you can download and contribute photos. They have everything from national to local election coverage. NSPA just asks that you give credit to the photographer and publication.

Associated Press Stylebook — 2020 Elections Topical Guide

The AP put together a guide full of terms that may come up in your 2020 election reporting. It has everything from capitalizing “Election Day” but not “election night,” to term definitions and when to use political idioms like “alt-right.”

Journalist’s Resource — tips to bolster your election day coverage

Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy runs a website called Journalist’s Resource geared at teaching journalists how to use academic research in their reporting. They “asked scholars who research polling place dynamics how reporters can do a better job spotting problems and contextualizing the information they gather” and used the answers to create this guide.

Student Press Law Center — Student media guide to publishing political ads

Come election time, some student news organizations may be asked to advertise political candidates. SPLC made a guide to make sure every ad placement is legal and ethical, no matter your editorial board’s endorsements.

Center for Information & Research on Civil Learning and Engagement — 2020 Election Center

CIRCLE at Tufts University conducts research on how youth participate in elections including voter registration rates, their views on the candidates, and their involvement in the political process.

Report the Vote — The Freedom Forum Institute and Fors Marsh Group

This project provides resources for journalists reporting on registration and voting in the 2020 elections.

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