Your Voice Ohio

Your Voice Ohio is a collaboration between nearly 40 outlets across Ohio, spanning print, radio, and television. In partnership with the Jefferson Center, a non-partisan civic engagement organization, the collaborative in 2017 organized “world cafe” style community discussions focused on manifestations of the region’s opioid epidemic, potential solutions, and steps that the media can take to help. Reporters joined community members in an effort to truly understand and empathize with community participants.

Doug Oplinger, Project Manager of Your Voice Ohio and former Managing Editor of Akron Beacon Journal, has been a believer in focus groups for over thirty years. “By listening to people talk, you begin to understand nuances and see stories in different ways,” he says.

In 2008-2012, Oplinger began to observe rising concerns among Americans about the health of their democracy and the harmful role of the media in driving people apart. In 2012, focus groups conducted for a civility project with local partners and the University of Akron surfaced perceptions that people blamed the news media for the government gridlock and lack of civil discourse. It also seemed that journalists were in denial about their perceived contribution to the problem, and no longer empathizing with readers.

In 2016, Oplinger partnered with The Jefferson Center to launch the Informed Citizen Akron & Your Vote Ohio projects, designed to find solutions to tone down the nasty tenor around the presidential campaign and enable local media to play a constructive role in civic conversations. In addition to polls and surveys, the project held a series of intensive deliberative events that lasted three days each. Participants were asked questions like:

  • What kind of information do you want?
  • What do you want from local media?
  • How can media better serve your information needs?
  • What is the best way to present information to you?

Based on the recommendations that came out of these discussions, a consortium of media organizations formed a partnership to share research, work, and collaborate on a series of stories based on the discussions.

After the 2016 election, the collective rebranded itself as “Your Voice Ohio,” focusing on the opioid epidemic and broader economic transformation issues. Engagement activities continue to be designed to bring journalists closer to the community in order to understand their feelings and the information they need to help them with their daily lives. "At the end of the meeting, one participant said, 'We didn't know the news media cared this much. I have never felt this kind of goodwill in my community,’” says Oplinger.


  • World cafe style discussions: These events involved small group discussions, where each group rotated through tables to ensure everyone had a chance to discuss the questions at different tables. Each discussion lasted two hours, and focused on three questions: (1) What does the opioid epidemic look like in your community? (2) What are some solutions? (3) What steps can we take? Participants were also asked to write down one question they wanted the journalists to answer.


  • Set some ground rules for the journalists. Get reporters to put down their notepads. Discourage them from taking notes, and don’t allow recorders or cameras during the conversation. The goal is to understand how people are feeling and what solutions they are interested in, not to get quotes or to interview.
  • Have journalists participate in discussions in multiple communities. Experiences vary widely between communities, so journalists get the most of this experience by participating in several conversations.
  • Partner with an expert facilitator. The Jefferson Center specializes in designing resource-intensive community engagement activities in partnership with a range of institutions, including newsrooms. Its staff design, organize, and facilitate the community discussions, allowing journalists to participate actively – and to experience how conversations can be done differently.
  • Ensure a diversity of perspectives: The discussions are open invitation; call outs are sent among local media partners (print, radio, Facebook), as well as more direct invitations to local health partners, churches, support and recovery networks. The team does due diligence to bring diverse voices, opinions, and experiences to the table. It can be helpful to select venues in different locations, making the conversations more accessible to more people.