How to be a source
For Votebeat to report the facts about elections and voting, we need folks like you — public officials, administrators, researchers, and voters — to help inform our reporting.
This guide will help you share your tips and experiences with Votebeat.
What to expect from Votebeat
One of Votebeat’s aims is to foster a nuanced conversation about voting among a diverse community of administrators, policymakers, advocates, and voters. We promise to treat every source with the respect and dignity they deserve. We promise to provide a welcoming and trusting environment for all to share their story. Each story we hear from the community is important, and we will do our best to tell it accurately.
Connect with Votebeat!
Need to get in touch with us? Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send a secure text message via the Signal app to (720) 773-1674.
What makes a good tip?
Votebeat’s mission is to show how elections work, what safeguards protect the integrity of the vote, and where the process needs to be improved. When we evaluate stories for their newsworthiness and decide how to approach them, we consider our mission.
A good tip for a Votebeat reporter relates to how election laws and voting access policies affect voters—especially traditionally disenfranchised citizens such as Black, Latino, Indigenous, disabled, and low-income voters. Your tip should let us know why you think the story you’re telling us about is important, and, ideally, should be supported with documentation or other evidence. Votebeat is especially interested in how local election administration issues fit into the bigger, national debate about voting.
A few examples of good news tips:
- My county has been trying a new approach to increasing voting access, and we think it’s working, based on internal data.
- I think an election administrator is acting unethically. Here’s proof, including emails.
- Our new provisional ballot process is being applied unevenly; here’s some data that shows just how dramatic the disparity is.
- I have inside knowledge about internal election administration practices I believe should be public knowledge.
Know the rules about “off the record”
You’ve probably heard the phrase “off the record” and “background” thrown around before. But what do they mean and how does it work?
- On the record: Whenever you’re talking to a reporter, you’re usually automatically “on the record.” This means that a reporter can quote what you say in a story, including your name and title. We strive to publish information that’s on the record because we value transparency. We will always identify ourselves as Votebeat reporters.
- Off the record: When you tell a reporter something “off the record,” that means the reporter can’t use the information you provide in a story. The reporter may discuss with you other strategies to confirm the information and will never disclose — directly or indirectly — that you provided the initial tip. If you want something “off the record,” be sure to say that up front, and make sure the reporter agrees to go off the record.
- Anonymous: When you tell a reporter something on the record, but you don’t want to be identified by name, you serve as an anonymous source. We only grant this in special cases. You may discuss anonymity with our reporters, but you should know that they will likely try to work with you to provide at least some identifying information in any story that includes quotes or information from you. We seek to avoid including anonymous sources in our stories because it weakens our credibility as a news organization if we cannot demonstrate to readers why the information we report is reliable. Even if you do not agree to be quoted and we don’t grant anonymity, the information you provide can help us better understand the stories we are telling.
Regardless of whether you want to be on or off the record, you should never hesitate to reach out to Votebeat. Every reporter here will work with you to determine the best and safest way to share your information.
While these guidelines are fairly well established among journalists, some reporters use the terms in slightly different ways. When talking with any reporter, be sure to set clear parameters on your relationship.
Know the rules about open records
If you’re a government employee, such as a county elections director or clerk’s office staffer, your email is likely subject to state open records laws. That means anyone can peek inside your work email if they file such a request. For security, we recommend you email confidential tips from a private account. In extremely sensitive instances, you may consider setting up an entirely new email account to communicate with us.
Other pro tips on being a good source:
- Let reporters know the best way and time to reach you.
- If a reporter shares his or her deadline with you, try your best to get back to the reporter beforehand.
- This might sound like common sense, but don’t make something up. If you don’t know the answer to a reporter’s question, that’s OK. Just tell them.
- If you’re sending in photos, please make sure they’re as high resolution as possible.
- Check out these nine additional tips for helping journalists during breaking news events, courtesy of the journalism think-tank Poynter.
Got a question for Votebeat?
Send it our way! No question is too big or too small for Votebeat reporters to check out for our readers.
Votebeat has a general email to collect tips and story ideas from readers: tips@Votebeat.org.
You can also find individual reporters’ emails on our staff page.
Text and direct messaging
Votebeat is on Signal, the encrypted text messaging app. Our number is 720-773-1674. To ensure your message is encrypted, use the app; do not text directly from your phone. You can also send a private message to our Facebook or Twitter accounts.
U.S. Postal Service
Snail mail still works — and can be very secure. (Authorities need a warrant to intercept and open mail in transit.) If you’re concerned about security, include your tip and supporting evidence in an envelope without a return address, and drop the package in a sidewalk box, not your neighborhood post office. Do not use your office’s mailroom.
Our mailing address is:
Votebeat, PO Box 300434 Brooklyn, NY 11230