Getting the youth to tick: How Newshub's engaging young voters

With many young voters not turning out to the last election, who better to get them up to speed with New Zealand politics than one of their own? Newshub thought just that, so it got one of its interns on the case to create a new series called Ticked Off.

By Erin McKenzie | June 16, 2017 | news

Mitchell Alexander

With yesterday marking 100 days until the election, Newshub's gearing up to make those 100 days count with a new Facebook series called Ticked Off that aims to get 18- to 24-year-olds engaged with politics and make them realise their vote is one that counts. And fittingly, it's 20-year-old reporter Mitchell Alexander at the wheel with political editor Patrick Gower in the passenger seat.

“A lot of people my age and the younger generation just don’t really know where to go to find out about politics, and because there isn’t anywhere for them to go where they can understand it, they don’t bother with it,” Alexander says.

That's no doubt a contributing factor to the 2014 election only seeing 63 percent of enrolled 18- to 24-year-old voters turn out. Those 37 percent (126,000) who didn’t turn out were joined by those who didn’t bother to enrol and contribute to the ‘missing million’—a term given to all those old enough to vote but didn’t.

Had that missing million voted, the result might have been different.

However, poor youth voter turnout is not unique to New Zealand as it's estimated only 50 percent of eligible 18- to 29-year-olds voted in the US 2016 general election. But those numbers are able to be increased. In Australia, where voting is compulsory, the participation of 18-year-olds in Australia's federal election rose from around 50 percent in 2013 to over 70 percent in 2016, and in the latest UK election, there was a 'Youthquake’, with an estimated 66-72 percent of youth turning up to vote compared to the 43 percent turnout at the previous election.

Hoping to do the same here, Alexander's taken into consideration the shorter attention span 18- to 24-year-olds tend to have by making a snackable video every week, recognising their lack of knowledge about how the election works by taking it right back to the beginning.

An example is the first video, which breaks down how MMP works and how cabinet is formed before going inside parliament to look at what happens in there and the parties gunning for power.

The videos to come will take a further look at those parties and as election day draws closer, they will look at what actually happens on the day.

“We’re giving them something easy that they can access, it’s quick and is something they can look, view and read about and educate themselves about politics and democracy and how our country works,” Alexander says.

To make sure the information is understood, it will be presented in a conversational tone that talks with 18- to 24-year-olds by responding to their questions on what ticks them off, as well as using their lingo because as Alexander says, “speaking with young people is completely different to trying to connect with 40-, 50- and 60-year-olds”.

Gower has taken that mission in his stride, so much so that he was filmed doing a dab (a popular dance move or gesture involving the head being dropped into the bent crook of a slanted arm while the other is raised parallel) in parliament. It was Alexander who taught him the move in an effort to change the way young people look at journalists and reporters.

“The idea was to get Paddy doing something young people can relate to and go 'holy crap, he dabbed, he’s awesome, he’s a bloody legend'.”

Gower isn’t quite so confident about his legend status and says a lot of people have asked him what he was doing, but he’s willing to sit back and let Alexander steer the way.

“It’s been a learning experience for me as well, particularly dabbing,” Gower says.

If the dabbing video is anything to go by, Ticked Off is sure to be a success as it’s generated over 11,000 likes, 5000 comments and 423,000 views.

Gower describes meeting his young dabbing mentor, or "bro" as he called him in the videos, as almost serendipitous as the poor turnout of voting youth was playing on his mind when Alexander, an intern at the time, proposed the idea for the series. Now, it’s become something Newshub believes has the legs to change the game for youth engagement in the election.

And just because there’s a 20-year-old in charge, doesn’t mean Newshub isn’t taking this seriously. Gower assures it’s not just talking about doing it as it’s giving Ticked Off all the professional help that it can get.

It’s a big break for Alexander who studied at the New Zealand Broadcasting School before landing an internship with Newshub and Gower says his lack of a political background makes him perfect for the job.

“We don’t want someone who knows all about it, we don’t need another boring Paddy Gower,” he says.

Instead, Alexander brings a fresh approach to political reporting. Teasing about what’s to come, he says there’s a series of interviews with party leaders that get them out of the suit and into environments audiences can relate to. He does a gym session with Andrew Little, a bike ride with Peter Dunne and plays beer pong with David Seymour.

With the videos Alexander creates being served straight onto Newshub’s Facebook page, this is the first election the news provider has formalised its use of social media for political coverage.

While social media has been around for all of the elections Gower been a reporter for, he says the media makes a quantum leap every election and there’s a lot on the line for not only the voters and New Zealand but also the media to make sure it delivers the truth in a way New Zealanders can consume.

To do that, this time around, it will be using Facebook, which Gower describes as a “bazooka for reaching people” and through that, it will fire its #Decision17 coverage including Ticked Off.

“If we can make one, two, three, four or hundreds of people believe in the ability to change things with their vote, we can pat ourselves on the back and maybe even do a dab.”

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