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With democracy on ballot, voters will lead the way in CDN’s Citizens Agenda 2024

New features, events coming to award-winning election coverage

By Ron Judd Executive Editor

This election reporting is provided free to all readers as a public service by the local ownership of Cascadia Daily News. Thanks for supporting truly local news by donating to CDN or subscribing here.

“Not the odds, but the stakes.”

For some election observers, that’s become the battle cry for media coverage, and citizen involvement, in the 2024 presidential election, a contest that’s already underway.

Ahead lies a full spring and summer of campaigning for what could be an up/down vote on representative democracy itself, given the clear track records of the current candidates, incumbent Joe Biden and his challenger, the unrepentant insurrectionist, authoritarian-inclined Donald Trump.

To most of us with even middling memories, the stakes seem clear, but thanks in part to a lifelong knee-jerk reflex among professional media wonks to treat opposing sides equally in coverage — even when one represents measurable truth and the other, demonstrable rank propaganda — the picture of U.S. presidential politics is often muddy to the masses. The “stakes” argument, laid out beautifully in recent months by New York media observer Jay Rosen, is an attempt to continue to reframe election coverage in a way that skirts the effects of talking points and sinister spin.

It’s more important this year than ever. And it’s central to the way we have always covered elections at Cascadia Daily News, which was founded in 2021 amid concerns about the survival of U.S. representative democracy.

Building on a solid base

Just like everywhere else, implications of the Nov. 5 vote — the stakes — are immense across Northwest Washington. That will be made crystal clear in your local newspaper, which will employ a new/expanded version of its Citizens Agenda project.

Citizens Agenda ’24 will, as in past years, revolve around questions from you, the voters, put to candidates by us, in the newsroom. This process will play out between now, when we officially open the floodgates for candidate questions, and “Election Day” on Nov. 5.

We consider the first two years of our election coverage, using the tools and guiding philosophy of the Citizens Agenda, to have been a resounding success. Public feedback to putting coverage topics in the hands of readers, not candidates or pundits, has been strong and consistent. We were honored last year to receive peer recognition for our project’s community service value.

It might seem early, but Cascadia Daily News is already plotting and planning the next round of election choices. Voters will be asked to make those in mid-July, when mailed ballots arrive for the Aug. 6 primary.

Up for grabs: a seat in Congress, the U.S. Senate and the Washington governor’s mansion, plus a half-dozen Whatcom/Skagit County legislative posts. Not to mention some statewide ballot initiatives. Oh, and that little presidential election thing.

Readers can track the progess of our coverage at cascadiadaily.com under Citizens Agenda for project reports under the auspices of the Opinion page, and Elections for coverage by news reporters.

“Reader-powered” election coverage

But what’s critical to know this year is the same as past years: It’s really about you.

Once again, we will repeatedly ask the trademark CA question: What do you want candidates to be talking about this election season as they compete for votes? Northwest Washington readers in two preceding elections have responded in droves, with questions distinguished not just by quantity, but also insight and clarity.

A long list of proposed questions will be published in July in the CDN Primary Election guide, where voters will be asked to pick their top questions in several categories. We’ll once again put those queries to candidates, both on written questionnaires, and in-person via interviews. Candidates who decline to answer will get a (literal) blank space in our guides.

Our readership’s favored questions in 2022 dealt with homelessness, abortion rights, election legitimacy, gun regulations and single-payer health care. In 2023, the questions focused on homelessness, Lake Whatcom water quality, PeaceHealth’s stranglehold on local health care, criminal justice reform, the Whatcom County Jail tax measure and other matters.

This year’s process will be similar: It’s never too early to start sending candidate questions to our main inbox, newstips@cascadiadaily.com, with the subject line: “Citizens Agenda.”

What’s new this year?

Timing: We’ll publish a comprehensive primary Voter Guide around the time ballots are mailed in mid-July. Our general election Voter Guide will publish in concert with ballots being mailed in mid-October.

Candidate interviews: At readers’ request, last year’s candidate interviews with CDN editorial board members and reporters were videotaped and made available on our website for public perusal. It’s our way of “showing you our work.” We’ll do the same this year.

Endorsements: In a process separate from our news coverage, CDN’s editorial board will interview and endorse candidates for state legislative races and the 2nd Congressional district race; it also will make endorsements in the race for the seat of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and the governor of Washington, as well as statewide initiatives. CDN does not make endorsements in presidential races.

More focused questions: With this year’s election, we’ll be streamlining our reader-question process, reserving the right to “bundle” and/or make very minor edits to submitted questions. This avoids having more than one question about a nearly identical subject take up multiple spaces among our Top 5. And it simplifies the entire matter of voting on questions.

Other new features: We will be soliciting and publishing a series of guest essays from community leaders, thinkers and dreamers about The Stakes in the 2024 election, whether at the national or local scale (please send suggestions to the email address at the end of this column). We also hope to participate in or sponsor an election Town Hall meeting in the fall.

Free election coverage: Cascadia Daily News strongly supports a growing national media movement to make all election coverage free outside subscriber paywalls — a nod to the civic commitment of local journalism. At CDN, we survive thanks to support from advertisers, and from readers in the form of subscriptions. But helping sustain an informed electorate that makes decisions based on facts, not spin, is at the very root of our existence. All our election coverage thus will be offered free to the public, outside our paywall, as a community service of our independent, local ownership.

Advertising: Because they are a public service of our fiercely independent newsroom, our Voter Guide supplements do not contain political advertising. CDN does accept other political advertising that meets state Public Disclosure Commission requirements and our own advertising policy (copies available upon request by emailing advertising@cascadiadaily.com).

We reserve the right to reject any political ad we believe spreads misinformation or, in the opinion of the executive editor, unfairly attacks an opponent.

Those are the ground rules, and our rough schedule. What’s important to remember today? The Citizens Agenda process is simply a funnel that relies on your ideas and energy to fuel successful coverage. We need to know: What matters most to you?

The approach has been successfully employed by many news organizations in the recent past to cut through political mudslinging, horse-race-focused coverage and other maladies that we now know pose significant threats to U.S. representative democracy.

That subject is dear to us. As an independent newsroom, we take our election coverage seriously and know our readers bring similar passion and focus to the subject.

It’s going to be a fascinating spring and summer of election coverage. We look forward to bringing all our readers along with us, and once again, count on you to point us in the right direction.


Ron Judd's column appears weekly; ronjudd@cascadiadaily.com; @roncjudd.

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