After the 2016 presidential election, which has been described as one of the most divisive election cycles in a generation, fault lines that had been hinted at broke out into the open: distrust of media, neighbours, people who don’t look like us, or those who do not share the same opinions about guns/religion/climate change/etc.

Aided by what turned out to be manipulated social media platforms, Americans began to appear more polarised than at any time since the Vietnam War.

As a media company with the flagship USA Today brand and 109 local news sites around the country, Gannett and the USA Today Network responded with a simple idea. We decided to use our platforms to remind Americans that, although we may have differences, we are all united by a few foundational values. We sought to re-engage with our communities across the country, stoke unity instead of divisiveness, celebrate diversity, and reconnect our communities around shared values.

Individuals were selected from all over the country, living in cities large and small, who reflect the many ways Americans are bringing communities together during a time when it may seem that America has never been more divided.
Individuals were selected from all over the country, living in cities large and small, who reflect the many ways Americans are bringing communities together during a time when it may seem that America has never been more divided.

The result of this idea was the multi-platform editorial and marketing project I am an American. Throughout 2017, we introduced the country to Americans working to unite, rather than divide their communities. Through profiles that ran weekly in every single USA Today Network publication and across platforms from print to digital, we lifted up the stories of 52 everyday Americans who are out there doing good work in their communities, often in obscurity.

Our diverse subjects were selected because they save lives, send students to college, build communities, teach civics, use art and music to educate, and heal in their local communities. A good share of these individuals originally came from other parts of the world and settled here — not just to live the American dream, but to give back to the country that has given them so much.

This was a project only the USA Today Network could do. With our 109 local newsrooms and the local experts who work and live there, we were able to find and tell stories from cities and towns large and small. The package spanned platforms from our daily print newspapers to digital Web sites, social media, video, a premium year-end edition featuring all 52 profiles, and a nationwide tour of live events.

Rafael Lopez, a DJ offering free community classes in Palm Desert, California, is one of 52 people profiled during the "I am an American" campaign.
Rafael Lopez, a DJ offering free community classes in Palm Desert, California, is one of 52 people profiled during the "I am an American" campaign.

The results were encouraging and have us gearing up to use this model as a way to approach covering our communities as we head into another presidential election cycle.

The profiles reached 2.08 million people via Facebook, 243,000 via Twitter, and garnered high levels of engagement on Instagram and Snapchat. The campaign also reached our company-wide print circulation of 2.7 million and more than 300,000 unique digital users. We also succeeded in our goal to remind Americans why we are all connected and what makes us uniquely American.