Outlier Media covers the way local and regional government officials make decisions and how communities make their concerns known. This, along with reports on public meetings by Detroit Documenters, is how we cover the way Detroiters do democracy. Now, we’re expanding this work and explaining this upcoming coverage. Just as we explained our process of covering the global conflict and our coverage of the automotive strikes, we’re answering frequently asked questions regarding how we make editorial decisions about democracy coverage in Detroit.

We always want to hear from you, and we especially want to hear about your democracy concerns for the 2024 election cycle. So, text “democracy” to 67485 to reach a member of our team* and/or to take a two-minute survey about voting in Detroit for a chance to win a $50 gift card. You can also send us your questions online here.

Here’s what you can expect from Outlier Media’s democracy coverage: 

What does democracy/election coverage mean to Outlier Media?

You won’t find a play-by-play of polling numbers or “horse race” political coverage here. You will find proof that Outlier prioritizes listening to and being responsive to residents so that we can help them understand the innerworkings, effects and realities of democracy and elections in Detroit. We scrutinize policies and push for transparency of civic government and its leaders. We keep tabs on civic leader behavior and report on whether they keep the promises they make to Detroiters.

We know voter turnout in Detroit is consistently low, so we understand that we cannot ignore the concerns and needs of Detroiters who don’t vote. Just the opposite, we seek out their concerns, address information they want and showcase how they’re civically engaged in ways that don’t involve them casting a ballot. Our coverage celebrates Detroiters being welcome into civic life and investigates ways in which Detroiters are pushed out of participating in civic life. 

In spring 2024, Outlier will partner with the Detroit Metro Area Communities Study (DMACS) at the University of Michigan and will launch a city-wide survey to better understand several points:

  • What civic institutions are Detroiters connected to? 
  • What are Detroiters’ greatest challenges?
  • How do Detroiters seek and find help they need?
  • What problems do Detroiters want fixed first?
  • How do Detroiters hold people in power accountable?
  • What reasons do Detroiters give for not voting?

How do we make editorial decisions about what stories to cover or not to cover?

Like all of our emerging news coverage, our democracy coverage is responsive and driven by information we receive or gather in many ways. We learn about Detroiters’ needs through our info-needs assessments; our text message service TXT OUTLIER; through public comments reported in Documenters notes; interactions with members in the Outlier Collective; feedback from newsletters; and any way residents share their concerns with us. We believe participation in the electoral process should lead to improvement in Detroiters’ lives, and it’s our job to find out whether the process is working and how it could work better. We share the information we find about important decisions — while there is still time to take action. 

We focus on what has been underreported and amplify the good work of our newsroom partners, often highlighting their work in our three weekly newsletters — Detroit Documenters, The Dig and Detour Detroit — and in a biweekly newsletter, Streetlight Detroit, that we co-publish with nine other newsrooms.

Where do we get the information we use to fact-check our reporting?

Resources we frequently use to fact-check our reporting include interviews, government websites and documents, voting records, Detroit Documenters notes, and information we obtain via Freedom of Information Act requests to local, state and federal officials. We also access library catalogs, historical records, Census information, media reports, academic research and more.

What do we hope to achieve with this coverage style?

We want to be a transparent and trusted source for democracy coverage in Detroit. Our focus is on filling information gaps to help all Detroiters make more informed decisions. We want to examine the ways in which elections affect everyone — from previous candidates to Detroiters who may or may not vote. 

We also believe civic participation takes many forms, including attending block club meetings, volunteering, being active at school or church, and going to public meetings. We hope to amplify community members’ voices in discussions about policy, democracy and civic life in Detroit. 

How do we hold politicians accountable?

Our reporters ask tough questions, and we give politicians ample time to respond to our inquiries before we publish anything. Being transparent and remaining open to scrutiny is also how Outlier Media holds itself accountable, and we hope this increases our community’s trust in us and our work. To shore up our research and accuracy in our reporting, Detroit Documenters are there along the way, attending public meetings and taking notes on what politicians say, when they said it and who they said it to. We share Documenters notes, live tweets, transcripts, recordings, meeting agendas, presentation packets and other documents with the public for free by publishing them to detroit.documenters.org. This gives everyone access to a record of what Detroiters say they need and want as well as how people in power respond to those they are expected to serve.

You can engage with us in a variety of ways! You can always get in touch with our reporters, become a Detroit Documenter or join the Outlier Collective.
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