Texting the Midterms: The Subtext Playbook

The 2022 midterm elections are set to drive the news cycle for the second half of the year. It’s also an excellent opportunity to show your value to the audience and the communities you serve. 

There are lots of ways to approach coverage. Some news organizations will stake their claim on breaking news.  Others will engage in listening projects to better understand their audience's information needs. Whether it’s voter guides or fact-checking, Subtext is versatile enough to fit into your editorial plans while providing a unique value that only SMS can deliver. Subtext is powering texting channels from San Jose, CA to Chicago to Long Island, perhaps you should take advantage of the opportunity too.

Before we get to the strategies — if you need more convincing on SMS as a medium — let’s dive into the why (or schedule a demo: In 10 minutes you can see the value of Subtext yourself!)

Why Text?

Beat the noise of social media and the clutter of email, offer your audience a breakdown of 2022 via the most streamlined platform. Produce more audience-focused election coverage by hearing directly from your community via text and create content they let you know they want and need. It takes less than 24 hours to get started and it's easier to manage a Subtext campaign than a Twitter account. After the election, you can easily sunset the campaign if you need.

If you want to increase members, donations, and/or subscribers in December, what better way to do that than leveraging the same medium which kept that audience informed through an important election. Text has a tangible ROI.

Ok, to the strategies. If you’re focused on the 2022 midterms and want ideas on how to incorporate texting into your game plan, read on. 

The Voting Guide!


voice of san diego phone-1

Text your audience the basics of who and what is on the ballot. Get texts back about what’s most important to them and what information they feel they’re missing to make an informed decision. Then create a voter guide that responds to these information gaps.

If a voter guide, or something akin to it, is already on your radar, then the heavy lifting that goes into these texts (the reporting) will already be on your list of things to do. Sending them out via text takes moments and ensures that the most interested members of your audience will not only be the first to see your guide but also take part in creating it with their questions.  Don’t go through the trouble of creating a voter guide without taking this important step to make sure its distribution is a success and its info is on point.

After you’ve done an amazing job covering the election via text, the audience now considers you a friend. You’re saved as a contact on their phone. You’re part of their daily routine. Every time the phone buzzes and it’s you, they’re accustomed to becoming a little smarter, a little more aware and engaged. You’ve officially Pavlov’s dogged them. And they want more.

When the election is over, you’ll be able to ask for support or subscribers. This won’t be a faceless and boring email to join/subscribe to. This will be a text — from their friend. No amount of engagement on FB or Twitter can earn that kind of relationship.

Breaking News / Pop-up Election Coverage

This is your bread and butter election coverage. There are local, state, and federal elections to watch. You probably already have a plan on how to cover what’s in your purview. 
nevada independent
But here's the rub, election coverage that doesn't reach the audience is a waste of resources. Luckily, 98% of U.S. adults text. There's no other medium with that kind of penetration (Twitter by contrast has 22% penetration). Text is the best way to make sure your coverage is seen. If all you do is distribute the information on social, algorithms and short attention spans will get in the way.

While email newsletters are one step up above social, the average person has 198 unread email messages. Do you really want to send them their 199th? The 90% open rate of text also means it's a channel that can find sponsorships. That's what Florida Politics does (see their election text below, powered by a sponsor!).

florida politics
Finally - text as a medium allows you to weave beautifully between breaking news and bringing people into a larger narrative or beat. Check out how the Texas Tribune gives context to a recent electoral result. Not only are they providing nuance to the news, but they're also keeping their audience engaged and part of the process.

texas tribune phone

Catering to that New Niche Audience (Audience Growth)

This is your opportunity to shine for new audiences. Maybe you want to go hard into the election but don't want to alienate your existing audience. Create a text channel! This will allow you to do in-depth, engaging, and breaking news for all things politics without pestering folks that come to you for Arts & Entertainment, Sports, or other less polarizing topics. 

The Atlanta Journal Constitution is planning for an influx of Beltway readers this election cycle. And while they want to offer them something special, they don't want to put off native Georgian readers by only covering politics from a national lens. A separate text channel will allow AJC to cater to these Beltway readers while keeping the trust of their core readers. 

Maybe politics isn’t your forte, but you want to branch out? Creating a pop-up text campaign is a perfect way to set and meet expectations for a new audience. You can provide them with the latest news and they can continue to guide you in what information is most important to them. You'll learn 10x as much via a pop-up text campaign than an email newsletter, where the audience will appear stiff and silent (nobody replies to email newsletters).

With our audience segmentation tool, you can even start a general texting audience and focus as you go. That's what the CBC did in the text below.

CBC Phone


From Inside the Halls of Government

This is for the people who want the insider baseball of politics. The horse race coverage, whether it’s national or local, makes people feel “in the know.” If you’re a local beat reporter you probably know and understand more about what’s happening inside the campaigns than anyone else. You have analysis and people want to feel like they’re on the inside with you.

In Maine, it's Michael Shepherd who runs a texting channel "Pocket Politics" which earns Bangor Daily News revenue as a stand-alone subscription product. Joe Eskenazi in San Francisco has a similar campaign. Both of these are "overheard in city hall" type texting channels. For the political wonks and insiders who can't get enough - these campaigns have become MUST READ sources. Even better, they're both stand-alone subscription campaigns earning revenue for their creators and putting them in touch with sources and insider info.bangor daily phone

The National View from an Expert!

Similar to the above case study, but national in scope and a bit more for the general public, rather than the wonk. Australia News Corp's lead political editor, Samantha Maiden texted throughout the country's Federal Election which took place earlier in 2022.

In 2020, the Tampa Bay Times took a similar approach letting political editor Steve Contorno text in his unique voice about the election

"Here we decided on two different styles of messages: Omniscient Times voice for links, deadlines, and information, and Steve’s specific voice any time he asked for questions or shared his thoughts on the subject he chose for the day. Steve would sign his name or otherwise indicate he was “speaking” when readers got those texts."

Tampa bay times phone

The Reporter's Rolodex

So far we've been talking about distribution. Subtext can shine there, but you can also tamp that down and turn up the listening angle. Let's say you're working on a story and you want to get as much input from as many of your trusted sources as possible. If you want to increase the time and likelihood of a response, you'll want to text your sources. It's easy to create a Subtext campaign that is for the creme de la crème of your audience. The folks who in addition to helping you distribute your content to their own networks, can help keep you informed, give you story tips or respond to your inquires. 

In Pennsylvania, a story came to life for WITF when a tip came in via their texting channel. The premise of their campaign is simple: "Message me anytime with your thoughts, ideas, and anything else on your mind. In return, I’ll keep you up-to-date twice a week with what’s going on in the room where it happens.

The modern Rolodex is in your iPhone. But with Subtext, you can message your entire contact list (or subgroups) in one click through a medium that is the most likely to get a rapid response. In fact, 90% of people who do respond to a text do so within the first hour. 

If you want to be a reporter who owns your beat, you gotta be on top of those key relationships and texting can do that.

Combat Voter Suppression with Direct Information

In this election, there’s going to be a LOT of news around mail-in-voting and voter suppression. Social media will not help solve this problem. In fact, it’ll probably make it worse, with disinformation floating around in every direction.

Through Subtext, you can give people specific actions they can take to cast their vote. This could include locations, an understanding of their rights, how to register, and more.

rapp news

The impact of the pandemic along with the rules, regulations, advice, and more will be different all around the country. Who better to help navigate that besides a news organization. Check out how the Nevada Independent got engagement rates as high as 89% using SMS to inform  readers about the State Primary.



This is classic “news you can use” that will earn your audiences’ trust and loyalty for years to come. Every time they think about their 2022 vote, they’ll remember it was your organization that helped them navigate the process. When your “text the election” project is done — you’ll have an easier time converting this audience into subscribers/members, because you helped them perform the most important civic duty we have in this country.

the land phone

Rumor Busting and Fact Checking

Now is the time to keep people accountable. Elected officials make all kinds of claims on the campaign trail. Social media is going to be toxic, with the worst kind of actors.

A benefit of text is that the public can send you questionable items to investigate. You don’t have to respond to every inquiry, but it’s common for our hosts to get lots of leads about rumors to track down and fact-check via text. You have an army of eyes and ears to help you dispel misinformation. Make it easy for them to send you what they see — let them text you.

TEGNA's Verify has a texting channel dedicated to fact-checking and we expect during the election cycle they'll be hard at work. Below is a recent example of their fact-checking.

verify phone

Spanish Language Coverage

Texting is a fantastic way to meet a community that has language requirements, whose needs can’t always be met on social or on your website. If you want to serve the Spanish-speaking community in your area but aren’t sure how — texting is a perfect medium that they’re already using.

Some members of the Spanish-speaking community might feel more comfortable asking questions via text rather than wading into the waters of social media or your site’s comment section.

It’s Easier To Get Started Than You Think

We know you’re busy. But we can get folks up and texting in one day if needed! 

Seriously. People are often worried about how much lift there is to get going. The truth is — once you get going, Subtext falls into your current workflow quite nicely. With just 10-15 minutes a day, a single person can run a Subtext campaign. Schedule a demo to see for yourself! 

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