As election season heats up, Democracywise is there to observe and report
Political reporting students track local campaigns on digital news site
Story by Newhouse student Meera Jagannathan
If you’re unsure of where to cast your vote in this year’s local elections, look to Democracywise.
The digital news project, produced by political reporting students at the Newhouse School, is a comprehensive resource for voters—including a database of candidates, voter registration information and a wealth of articles meant to deepen community members’ understanding of the issues. Charlotte Grimes, Knight Chair in Political Reporting m the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, serves as editor and her 16 students are the reporters.
“It is a real, honest-to-God journalism operation,” says Grimes. “We are our own newsroom.”
Since 2007, Democracywise (democracywise.syr.edu) has reported on congressional, state senate, state assembly and county court races, to name a few. This year, each student is following one candidate through the campaign season, culminating in election night coverage.
Grimes stresses that Democracywise is for everyone, “not just for political junkies.”
“Many people don’t pay attention to politics,” she says. “So they’re just now really tuning into all of this.”
Something for everyone
Katya Rivera, a senior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism and political science, is following State Assembly candidate Al Stirpe’s campaign. She says Democracywise has already helped improve her writing.
“I’m focusing now on writing instead of thinking, ‘Is this camera going to work correctly?’” she says. “And that’s going to make me a better reporter for TV down the road.”
Some students, like senior newspaper journalism major Stephanie Bouvia, have a more personal stake in the project. Bouvia, who also serves as web staff for the site, is covering Dan Maffei’s congressional campaign.
“I’m from here, so it affects me directly,” she says. “It’s something that I’ve been following for a really long time.”
To prepare her students’ work for publication, Grimes puts in a little extra time. Eight a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, to be exact.
“I want my students to be as good as they can possibly be, and I want to help them in any way I can,” she says. Her students, in turn, appear to be in awe.
“She just seems like she’s working nonstop,” says Jon Harris, a senior magazine and political science major covering congressional candidate Ann Marie Buerkle’s campaign. “I don’t know how she does it and keeps her sanity, but she does.”
Harris adds that Grimes likes to joke about how her former students who now work at local television stations sometimes use printouts from the Democracywise site. “I think that’s a quiet victory for her,” he says.