DemCast Editorial Workgroup

Scope of Work

This group is really charged with defining DemCast. No small task. A news site is defined by the type of content it offers, often distilled down to a single label: one word or phrase in readers’ minds that defines a publication as – for example – “trashy”, “conservative”, “edgy” or “reliable”. A major driver of a site’s esteem in the public sphere is editorial decision-making. What is the type of content that distinguishes The Atlantic from The Wall Street Journal from The National Inquirer? What type of content are you likely NOT to see in these publications?

The Editorial Workgroup will help to narrow the vision for what type of content we – at least initially – want to build in to define the DemCast experience. We will establish some “guardrails” – criteria for content that will help writers, podcasters & artists understand what type of messaging is appropriate for the site, and what type would be better shared elsewhere.

I’m going to walk through some of the background thinking that went into the initial concept design, then raise some of the critical questions we need to address from an editorial standpoint.

Relevant Google Docs for Collaboration – Quick Links:

Background

Here are some reminders and additional thoughts about the design and intent of this initiative:

  • Activist-Driven: DemCast is in essence intended to be an aggregator of content produced by grassroots activists, as well as candidates, campaigns and elected officials. Some of the content will be produced originally for other blogs or platforms, but then shared additionally on DemCast to help the content gain a greater audience. Other content will be produced and shared only on DemCast, though DemCast will not restrict contributors from publishing elsewhere.  The idea here isn’t to hire a bunch of reporters and create another news outlet. Instead, we want to curate quality content and make sure it’s seen.
  • Blue Wave, not Resistance: The resistance is about defying and exposing Donald Trump in particular and corruption more generally, especially in the GOP. Resistance content might focus on details of the Trump-Russia conspiracy, Mueller’s investigation, emoluments, or the corrupt excesses of Trump’s Cabinet, for example. In other words, this content is focused on the problem, and aimed at tearing this administration down. DemCast – as originally proposed – is more solution-focused. The mission of this effort is to excise as many Republicans from elected office as humanly possible, and replace them with blue candidates, such that we have vast blue majorities from state legislatures to Congress to the WH. So content will be solution-focused and forward-looking rather than problem-focused and backward-looking. This is more of a blue wave site than a resistance site, which will help to differentiate the platform from – well – almost all the rest of them.
  • Local > National: Another differentiator for the site is that there will be separate news pages for each state. Many local Dem parties and Indivisibles have a lot of energy but not much opportunity to break though in print or on social media. Rather than trying to compete with the onslaught of national press around the POTUS race, the initial thinking was that a better niche for DemCast was a focus on local and state races and issues. This is not to say that we won’t publish anything on the POTUS race. We undoubtedly will (this is one of our key considerations below).
  • Stay Positive: Our goal will be to strategically build the blue wave, expose candidates to the grassroots community, and highlight blue wins/efforts from elected Democrats. There will be no litmus tests for how far to the left or center a candidate needs to be – the Democrats are the Big Tent party – and local conditions matter. A written piece from an activist in West Virginia covering the race to replace Shelley Moore Capito may likely require bolstering a moderate Democrat, while other races in bluer states/districts can bolster pols farther to the left. In all cases – if contributors are bolstering candidates, the editorial standard would be to prop them up rather than tear others down within the party.
  • Categories of Content: As a reminder, here is the initial rundown of anticipated site content, as featured in the original content proposal.

So, with all that said, here are some core questions that we need to address from an editorial perspective:

Key Questions
  1. Editorial Standards: What makes DemCast content “DemCast content”? We need to come up with a series of standards, such as “All content is fact-based; opinions/suppositions are clearly identified as such” and “All content adheres to the stated mission of DemCast”, etc. This set of standards should help potential contributors easily deduce whether their idea or the media they have already produced is appropriate for DemCast.
  2. Liability: It is my initial thinking that, unless and until DemCast grows to such a size that it can take on liability for potential defamation lawsuits, etc., liability must lie with contributors themselves. As HuffPost did with its contributor program, DemCast contributors could be allowed to directly post content themselves without review, and content would have a disclaimer that ‘DemCast is not responsible for claims made or opinions expressed in this article’. We would need to set up safeguards such as 1) initial vetting prior to becoming a contributor; 2) opportunities for peer editing prior to posting, and; 3) a flagging system that will identify content that breaks our editorial standards, prompting the content to be pulled before it spreads. So our question for the group: Is this the right approach? If so, what is the ideal vetting process for new contributors, how should we institute peer editing, and how will we police content to ensure it adheres to standards? If it’s not the right approach – what is?
  3. The Sanders & POTUS Dilemma: Let’s cut to the chase – Bernie Sanders is a third rail in Democratic circles. You love him or you hate him or you don’t know what’s going on. So how do we handle this?
    1. I said above that in general this site is not going to focus on POTUS. So this could be one of our key decisions from an editorial standpoint – that we just won’t publish pieces that promote or tear down particular POTUS candidates.
    2. Or we could go the other direction – this is a grassroots-driven site, so let people post what they want to post so long as it is fact-based. Then our amplifiers on social media can (and will) choose whether they want to amplify content. This could mean that a pro-Bernie article is posted on the site, but would be mitigated by the fact that the social media team largely doesn’t amplify it. Also, the “guardrails” we build would require pro-Bernie articles to stay positive, not tear down others, and stay factual.
    3. Of course another option is drawing a line in the sand – we will post articles that promote candidates, but not candidates who take every opportunity to tear down the party. While my heart is here personally, I also don’t want this site to be another source for division. That’s just not what it’s for.
  4. More to Come…