The Civic Leadership Stories Project

For decades, the effectiveness and credibility of public service and civic institutions have been under assault from all sides. Now, we are at a crossroads, as a new generation of civic leaders seeks to redefine what public service looks like and what it can accomplish. Will their stories be told?

The Civic Leadership Stories Project supports scriptwriters, showrunners, producers, talent and other creatives telling fictional storylines about civic leaders. Storylines about civic leaders can be found in most TV shows and films. They can help shape audience views about politics, voting, advocacy and power. Told well, these stories can amplify the experiences of a new, more diverse movement of civic leaders, who are shaking up how things are done in places of power, and inspire audiences to public service and civic engagement in real life.

To inform this project, researchers from the Center for Media & Social Impact, in partnership with MTV Entertainment and When We All Vote, embarked on Watching Out for Democracy: How Entertainment TV Portrays Civic Leadership and Civic Engagement in the United States, an unprecedented examination of the top-rated leading entertainment TV shows during 2020, a historic year that saw soaring levels of voter participation in the national election. The study asks and answers key questions: What do young (18-34-year-olds) American audiences see and learn about civic roles and participation when they tune into their favorite entertainment TV shows? How is civic leadership—from elected officials and other public service leaders—portrayed? How do characters talk about and take civic action, from voting to volunteering to making change in their communities? The findings present opportunities for entertainment TV to portray authentic models of civic leade​rs and everyday characters grappling with contemporary dilemmas and solving complex problems in fresh, compelling storylines.

The Project is led by Will Jenkins, Charmion Kinder, Kimberly Reason, Jesse Moore, and Caty Borum Chattoo. Partners include Cinereach, MTV Entertainment Group, the Solutions Journalism Network, and others.


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