Yes – reading or listening to the news can be a pretty depressing activity these days but it doesn’t have to be that way, there are a lot of really good journalists out there doing their best to help us understand the choices we will have at the ballot box next year. If we could all spend just 30 minutes per week going through these steps and documenting the useful news we find we can actually build a better news database. Here’s how:
Find your District. This lookup tool at Govtrack makes it a snap to find your district and current representative. Jot it down and you won’t have to repeat this step each week.
Find out who is running in the primary and general election. Ballotopedia makes this easy. Click on the link then locate your state from the list at right and then open your district page to find candidates running from both parties. Note – you will find both the primary date and deadline to file at the top left of this page so you can check back periodically until the filing deadline to see if new candidates have announced. Once all the candidates have filed you can skip this step too.
Open up your favorite news search engine and see what you can find. Both Google News and Duck Duck Go News can be useful for this and it might be instructive to see the different results you might get. I’m going to suggest four simple searches to begin and then offer a few general tips.
- Basic name search. Paste in the incumbent’s name in the search box and let er rip. Note – if your representative has a common name putting quotes around the name may help refine the results. You can also add the word congress to limit results if necessary
- Now do the same thing with each challenger’s name
- At this point, depending on your district, you might have a bunch of policy-based articles. But if they don’t appear to be specific try to find a story that compares the candidates by putting both names in quotes in the search box
- If articles seem to be short on policy try adding any of the following along with each candidate’s name: proposes, proposed, sponsored, suggests, outlined.
Take 2-3 of the best articles you can find and enter them in our Better database so we can all see approaches being covered in other parts of the country that we might want to ask our own candidates about closer to home.
– I promised you could do this in 30 minutes or less but you have to help. Stories about policy are hard enough to find, if it doesn’t look like it is about a proposed policy it probably isn’t. Take it from someone who’s been doing this a long time, If you’re not careful you can spend a whole afternoon doing this and thus, will probably not ever do it again.
– Resist the temptation to read news about other stuff, including national politics. Your favorite cable news channel has got that covered for you, this is about something else.
– If you find that a particular word associated with a candidate you are searching is throwing off the results you can exclude a word in either of the search engines above, I will show an example in the video walkthrough soon.
– If you want to go all Boolean – you can. Try adding the candidate’s name in quotes, a space and then AND (proposes OR proposed OR sponsored OR outlined OR suggests). Add congress, if necessary, to limit the results if there are still rogue returns.
– Save your searches. Either of these search engines will allow you to save your results so it’s easy to go back and see what’s new next week.
Last but not least, in fact most. We can’t build this unless a lot of us do it. At the end of every week, please pass this page on to two more people (preferably people that live in a different town) and ask them to do this too. Together, we will find and elect better.