Volume 8 | Issue 3
Hi LINCS members!
The pandemic has affected us all in many ways, and as a result, many of us have learned to adapt to the new environment that we are in. LINCS is no different! As many of you already know, LINCS will not be able to meet together in person this year, but I am happy to report that your LINCS executive committee has still been hard at work to brainstorm content for virtual learning opportunities in lieu of in-person meetings in 2020. Expect more information in the future about virtual events.
In addition to planning some digital content for this year, we have already had some preliminary discussions about our next LINCS PDS in 2021!
In July, your executive committee met virtually to discuss the future of our staff association given the fact that we will not be able to hold our annual business meeting this year. We voted unanimously to extend the terms of office for our existing executive committee members for another year, following the lead of some other NCSL staff associations, as well as NCSL’s executive committee. I am honored and look forward to continuing to serve as your chair.
Last, but certainly not least, I hope you will join me in welcoming NCSL’s Jennifer Stewart as our new LINCS liaison. I have enjoyed getting to know Jennifer and am excited to work with her going forward. I would also like to thank Jane Andrade and Holly South for their invaluable service to LINCS as our past liaisons.
I look forward to the next time we can be together in person! In the meantime, I hope you will reach out to myself, our NCSL liaison, Jennifer Stewart, or any of the other executive committee members with any questions or ideas you may have.
—Betsy Theroux, LINCS chair
How to Create (and Sustain) a Podcast in Your Legislature
By Drew Volturo, Delaware
When my communications team approached me nearly two years ago about creating a podcast for the Delaware House Democratic Caucus, I was a little skeptical.
Could we really capture people’s attention and interest using this long-form storytelling vehicle to discuss various policies and initiatives? It had the potential to be very dry, mundane, even boring. But the team was enthusiastic and adamant, so we charged ahead.
Two years later, we have developed a podcast that has a small but loyal following, offering another medium to communicate our message with an audience that is often overlooked. It has become a labor of love—a fun way to tell stories in a way we don’t often do in our day-to-day communications.
While we’re far from experts, we’ve learned some lessons along the way that are worth sharing:
- Invest in equipment. Commit to investing smartly in the technology you need to do sound as professional as possible. Even with a limited budget, you should be able to get good microphones that can record radio-quality sound for $50 and soundproof foam tiles to deaden echoes and reverb. Research a user-friendly program to record and edit your episodes. Some simple investments upfront will make a huge difference.
- Plan ahead and identify topics. Check for bills being developed or introduced that you might want to follow through the legislative process. Scour the calendar for anniversaries of important or historic events. Examine legislative or gubernatorial agendas for initiatives. Think outside the box: We published a “Schoolhouse Rock” episode, as well as an episode interviewing the “unsung heroes” who make Legislative Hall run behind the scenes.
- Tell a story. Once you decide on your episodes, map them out, identifying people to interview and topics you want to cover with them. You should generally know what kind of story you want to tell and how it should flow.
- Be human. Be informative. Be humorous. Be interesting. Try to have as authentic an interview as possible. You want “real” answers, not canned responses to pre-planned questions. It might take effort to get your guests to relax and open up, but the results are undeniable.
- Use interaction and different voices. Some of the best episodes we’ve published put multiple people in the same room for a conversation rather than a series of one-on-one interviews. We had the attorney general, a defense attorney/legislator and a formerly incarcerated individual discuss criminal justice reform, and it was a powerful episode. Another episode featured two legislators and an advocate who traded stories about anti-discrimination legislation they fought for a decade to pass 10 years ago.
- Get episodes in the can. Once you begin publishing episodes, strive to maintain a regular schedule, be it weekly or another interval. Before getting to that point, identify evergreen-type stories you can complete and have ready to go before your debut to give you a buffer between the timelier episodes you take on. Having three or four episodes ready helped us tremendously.
- Have fun. Pick topics that resonate with your team and look for ways to incorporate little “Easter eggs” into the episodes (background sounds, historic audio clips, etc.)! Don’t be afraid to mix things up—one week, you might have a 50-minute episode about the death penalty, and the next week could be a 25-minute piece about legislative superstitions. This should be fun, informative and enjoyable with a finished product that makes everyone proud. If you keep those goals, this will be a worthwhile venture.
Access the podcast, “Whip Count,” here. Special thanks to Jen Rini and Sam Barry, former communications staffers who launched this project and have gone on to new roles in politics and government.
Seeking more podcasting tips and tricks? You can access this archived LINCS webinar, “The Power of Podcasting,” here.
Legislative Communicator or Superhero? What’s the Difference?
By Emmanuel Brantley, The District of Columbia
Have you ever considered your legislature as part of a comic universe? Or have you humored yourself and regarded the elected officials, appointees or staffers around you as mutant beings or superheroes drifting about? Well, until recently, I hadn’t exactly done so either! 2020 has been a year for the books, and it was our current state of affairs that allowed me to see legislative staffers, and particularly the communications staffers for who we truly are—supernatural beings (wonders) at work!
From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recent national outcries for criminal justice reform and the first-ever virtual legislative sessions, the last few months were reminiscent of a great intergalactic war. Responding to the call, legislative communicators across the country took to their posts like superheroes prepared to help save the day.
On the one hand, we warred with an unpreparedness to operate at full capacity when working remotely. Still, we inundated Twitter timelines and Facebook feeds with “the latest” information (no easy feat as “news” seemed to appear every five minutes) and attacked email listservs without remorse. On the other hand, constituent concerns—those of private residents, business owners, educators and others—overtook our skies like an asteroid shower. Yet, we continued directing countless residents to available resources.
As time progressed, I encountered an increasing number of individuals whose unfamiliarity with state and local governments’ inner workings made it impossible for them to advocate on behalf of the communities they served effectively. That was painful to watch during a time when so many people needed relief. At some point I began to wonder, as supernatural beings, what superpower do legislative communicators have? How can we help save our universe? After careful thought, it came to me—we have the power of telepathy!
Because of our minute-by-minute inhalation of multisource information, it can be argued that we are effectively mind readers. We are aware of what is being said, who is saying it, and why. Furthermore, with the emission of a live broadcast or the addition of three octothorpes at a page’s end, we transmit ideas and information without ever opening our mouths. This observation may seem fairly simple (or even odd), but I find it to be true, and I believe that periodic reminders will prevent us from taking it for granted.
So, how do we harness this power for good? I have two ideas.
1. Have the tough conversations before it’s absolutely necessary. Sometimes topics trend and dominate the news cycle all on their own. I believe that we should remind ourselves and those within the legislature of what is important to the constituencies and identify topics—such as criminal justice or education reform, job creation or affordable housing development—that may bring us to a head. By anticipating these topics, we can encourage that they be prioritized in messaging, and hopefully open the door to more thoughtful public engagement and perhaps help lessen any backlash that may naturally come about.
2. Teach civic engagement year-round. There’s no reason for us to wait until election season to encourage people to check their registration status, nor do we have to wait until the commencing of budget season or the introduction of a major bill to teach adults and children how a bill becomes a law. Let’s be mindful and plug in these types of items when and where we can. We must take a more active role in providing civics education.
In short, information (or knowledge, as they say) is power, and at the core of our telepathic existence is our ability to grasp and share large quantities of it. Let’s continue to be a strong voice within our legislature, so that the voice that is voice without leads to the right kind of change.
NCSL is proud to offer a wide variety of civics resources for state legislators and staff, who are the face of state government for most of their constituents. Legislators and staff inhabit a unique space to interact with citizens and to promote engagement and participation in all levels of American democracy. Whether interacting with schoolchildren on state capitol tours, at town halls or in their classrooms, NCSL’s materials, resources and talking points will help legislators and staff inspire the next generation of voters and representatives.
NCSL News and LINCS Resources
Webinar: “Tech Tools to Engage Constituents”: The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated—and made even more important—ongoing efforts to reach constituents in a timely way. Legislators and staff are broadening their reach via both new and familiar forms of technology, as well as new approaches to some tried-and-true methods of communication. Learn about trends and best practices from colleagues in other states, strategies for reaching constituents via technology, and how to keep content and communications fresh over multiple communications vehicles.
LINCS’ very own Drew Volturo (Delaware) is one of the presenters! Check out this archived webinar to get some ideas.
Virtual Programming this October—Be on the lookout for more information! LINCS is hosting webinars on crisis communications and emotional intelligence or hosting an engaging virtual event.
2020 NCSL Base Camp: Plan to attend 2020 NCSL Base Camp, Sept. 15-17, for a three-day online experience like no other! More than any other year, states will benefit from coming together to map the way forward. In addition to policy sessions and professional staff, legislative staff will be honored at the Salute to Legislative Staff on Thursday, Sept. 17. Jessica Buchanan, who was held captive for 90 days by Somali land pirates, will share her story about being resilient while facing adversity. Register today.
NCSL has compiled coronavirus resources for legislative staff covering a range of policy areas including continuity of government and elections. In addition to updates on state actions, there are distance learning opportunities such as webinars and podcasts. And be sure to visit the Comms Shop, a new resource on NCSL’s LINCS webpage with research on legislative social media sites, crisis communications, media access and credentialing policies, and more.
Congratulations to the LINCS 2020 Legislative Staff Achievement Award Winners!
Every year, LINCS gives out two Legislative Staff Achievement Awards to members who have demonstrated excellence in supporting the work of a state legislature, strengthening the legislative institution and providing valuable contributions to LINCS. Betsy Theroux (Georgia), LINCS chair, and Wendy Madsen (Wyoming-) are this year’s recipients. Congratulations Betsy and Wendy!
Betsy Theroux, LINCS Chair
Director of Media Services, Georgia House of Representatives
Betsy Theroux joined the House of Representatives’ staff in January 2012 as a session assistant and then served as deputy member press secretary, member press secretary and interim director of communications before being named director of the Media Services Office. In 2015, Theroux was elected by the members of the House of Representatives to serve as the House messenger for the 2015-2016 term, and was reelected in 2017 for the 2017-2018 term and in 2019 for the 2019-2020 term.
Theroux currently serves as the chair of NCSL’s Legislative Information and Communications Staff (LINCS) association. She previously served as the LINCS secretary and vice chair. She is also a member of NCSL’s Legislative Staff Coordinating Committee.
Special Projects Manager, Wyoming Legislative Service Office
Wendy Madsen has worked for the Wyoming Legislative Service Office since 1994. She most recently staffed the Capitol Rehabilitation and Restoration Oversight Group, consisting of eight members of legislative leadership and the governor. She served as the legislative branch’s liaison on the owner’s team for the $300 million Capitol Square Project, which was comprised of the rehabilitation and restoration of Wyoming’s Capitol; replacement, relocation and expansion of the central utility plant serving five state buildings; the remodel and expansion of an adjacent office building; and the remodel and expansion of the underground building that connects the Capitol to the office building.
Prior to working on the Capitol restoration, Madsen was responsible for legislator training, media relations, and public outreach and civic education about the legislative process. She was responsible for legislative operations, including facility management, information management, emergency preparedness and event planning. During her time at the Legislative Service Office, Madsen was responsible for establishing the Legislature’s general research function and worked as a member of the program evaluation staff. She’s a former LINCS chair and has served on NCSL’s Executive Committee and the Legislative Staff Coordinating Committee.
Have an idea for a future issue of The Voice? Want to contribute a short feature?
Contact LINCS Secretary Emmanuel Brantley