GBH News is giving viewers a front row seat on young voters’ discussions about the biggest issues of the 2024 election and what will inspire them to vote — or not. The new video series Politics IRL features young adults sitting face to face, often with someone who disagrees with them, hashing out their opinions. 

GBH News' Azita Ghahramani, left, and Alexi Cohan

The series allows young people, mostly college students, to pick topics and doesn’t shy away from today’s often polarizing subjects — abortion, housing, presidential candidates, the economy, and more. The diverse cadre of young people hold views across the political spectrum and were discovered by GBH through partnerships with local organizations and student groups. 

The videos are part of the national public media effort America Amplified, where 57 stations around the country are using the tools of “engagement journalism” to not only cover stories but to understand viewers’ concerns more deeply. We talked with Azita Ghahramani, GBH News senior politics editor, and Alexi Cohan, producer, about the innovative project. 

What is ‘engagement journalism’?

Alexi: Engagement journalism is about serving the community, meeting people where they are, and shaping coverage around them instead of around our own ideas. It puts the audience in the driver’s seat. I sometimes call it ‘reverse journalism.’ Traditionally, we find people who can talk with us about our story idea. In this case, we are finding people who want to talk about politics and letting them tell us what topics they want to engage with. 

Azita: GBH News has long been thinking about ways to engage Gen Z and I had been hoping to do a video series with Gen Z participants talking about the issues they care about. Bringing those two ideas together with America Amplified was the perfect fit. The two ideas converged beautifully. 

 How has it felt to try a new kind of journalism? 

Alexi: It’s been a great experience for me because I feel more connected to our audiences. It has already changed how I engage with people and what I’m asking of subjects. I’m becoming less transactional and more community focused. 

Azita: These conversations are not moderated, they’re run by young people themselves. That has had an impact on how I approach people. The people we interview sometimes have a far better grasp of the agenda or topic than we have. I go into every encounter with a very open mind to learning what their agenda is. 

What impact do you hope this series has?

Alexi: I hope it encourages people to sit down and talk with someone with whom they disagree. It’s one of the hardest things to do in America right now. I hope the project can show people that it’s not as hard as you might think. 

How have the videos been received?

Alexi: This is a digital-first project with the videos posted first on YouTube and virally shared. Our analytics show that more younger people are watching these videos than are viewing traditional GBH News videos. That’s a huge success. We’re also getting thousands of views of the video shorts we’ve created. 

What impact has it made on you personally?

Azita: It’s given me a spark of optimism about the future of our country because these young people can really think through important conversations and important topics. The future is in their hands — and when you talk to these people you realize that the future is in very good hands. 

Check out the series here.

Learn more about America Amplified here.