How did we do that? Video interviews for City Council election coverage

“The power of the periodical press is second only to that of the people.”

-Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

The Missourian just posted video interviews conducted with the five candidates for Columbia City Council on March 14. We’d like to take the time to explain to you how those interviews came about.

When meeting to discuss what questions we wanted to pose to the candidates in late February, Public Life editor Scott Swafford, reporter Jacob Kirn and I came up with a simple solution: ask the readers.

With input from our community outreach guru Joy Mayer, the Missourian posted an online survey powered by Google. The results of that poll can be viewed here. Any names that were submitted for follow-up interviews have been removed from the Google form document.

As you can see, the response to the online survey was low. Our analytics suggest 93 unique users visited the page, and we received 19 responses to the online questionnaire. We also received 20 responses from paper forms of the survey handed out at civic club meetings, including the Columbia Kiwanis and Rotary organizations.

Accordingly, in designing questions for the Missourian video interviews, we took the survey responses with a grain of salt.

We tried to capture the interests of those who took the time to fill out our online survey. But we also drew from themes that emerged in our coverage of forums throughout the community and in speaking with the individual candidates about the issues they prioritized after meeting with residents of their ward.

The result was a seven-question survey in which we limited responses to 30 seconds or a minute, depending on the complexity of the question. Those questions were:

1. What strategies do you believe are most promising for supporting existing businesses and for attracting new business, industry and jobs to town? (60 seconds)
2. What are your thoughts about the consultant’s report last week that found low morale and problematic leadership in the Columbia Police Department? (30 seconds)
3. What are your perceptions about crime in Columbia? (30 seconds)
4. Responsible budgeting has been a consistent theme in the City Council campaign. If you are elected, what would be your budget priorities, and what areas do you believe are expendable or need attention? (60 seconds)
5. What more can the city do to ensure responsible growth? (60 seconds)
6. How much of a priority should affordable housing be for the City Council over the next three years? (30 seconds)
7. If elected (or re-elected), what will be your first priority upon entering office? (30 seconds)

Candidates were interviewed on the same day and then offered the chance to follow up on their answers and elaborate for our issues coverage, which will be posted leading up to the election on April 3.

Missourian photo staff members Andrew Mitchell and Dakota Dillon shot and edited the videos, using expertise us print folks can only dream about.

The Missourian is in many ways a lab newsroom. We strive to engage the community and our readers and to be transparent in our methods of reporting. Knowing that, there are several things we learned from this exercise that will inform our coverage in the years to come. Do you have any ideas about how we could have attracted more responses to our online questionnaire? Did we do enough to make sure your voice was heard in our election coverage this year? Tell us in the comments below or send an email to news@columbiamissourian.com.

And, as always, thanks for reading!

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