By Katie Reedy
In April, the Foreign Press Centers (FPCs) previewed their plans to promote global media coverage of the 2020 presidential elections to ensure a broad understanding of the U.S. democratic process. Soon after the success of their in-person reporting tour for overseas journalists at the New Hampshire presidential primaries in February, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic presented unprecedented programmatic challenges.
In normal election years, FPCs offer approximately 100 foreign journalists the opportunity to experience the American democratic process first-hand by participating in reporting tours. With travel out of the question, FPCs engineered an innovative solution to bring the 2020 U.S. presidential election to foreign journalists remotely.
Working with implementing partner Meridian International Center, FPCs created an eight-week virtual program comprised of two rich streams of content: 20 live, on-the-record briefings by independent experts and vibrant content filmed by local producers hired in critical locations including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington, D.C., and archived for participants’ exclusive use.
All posts were invited to nominate journalists to participate, with 214 journalists from 100 countries qualifying for the virtual reporting tour, which launched in September and concluded the week after Election Day. The journalists received exclusive access to hours of on-the-street interviews, expert interviews, and B-roll footage that provided in-depth insights into key battleground states and tuned in to insightful briefings on the Electoral College, battleground states, polling, and more. Briefers hailed from think tanks, the media, polling firms, and advocacy organizations, including Pew Research, the Quinnipiac Poll, Politico, National Public Radio, and the Center for Responsive Politics, as well as 18 leading universities.
Even though this year’s participants were unable to travel from their countries of origin to the United States, this program brought the U.S. electoral process to a global audience, especially from countries with limited independent media or access to credible information about American politics and society. One reporter from Panama noted that when she was unexpectedly called to provide live commentary for her television station on election night, her FPC notes “saved [her] life” and allowed her to counter disinformation in real time on the air. A young journalist from Mauritius said the B-roll was the first overseas footage her station had ever used. A seasoned Mexican reporter who first reported on U.S. elections in 1984 found the virtual tour “refreshing” and full of “new insights.” As of mid-November, participating journalists had filed more than 750 stories that directly resulted from the virtual tour.
The virtual tour was a remarkable success, exponentially increasing access to cover the U.S. elections and generating credible reporting for a global audience in the hundreds of millions. The FPCs are excited to continue this programming model in the future and are exploring an expanded range of topics.
Katie Reedy is a media relations officer in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs’ New York Foreign Press Center.