Today we mark both Veterans Day and 100 years since the end of World War I. President Trump is in France today with French President Emmanuel Macron and dozens of other world leaders to acknowledge a century since the deadly war. Closer to home, we're dealing with the aftermath of Election Day as votes are still being counted in New Jersey's Third District. Meanwhile, we spoke with reporter Jonathan Lai about a special midterms project: texting about the issues with our readers.

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Behind the story with Jonathan Lai

Sebastian Avila, center, encourages students to pledge to vote on Election Day next Tuesday at Temple University on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Sebastian Avila, center, encourages students to pledge to vote on Election Day next Tuesday at Temple University on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018.

Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week, reporter Jonathan Lai talks about the midterm elections and why he was texting Inquirer readers all week.

Leading up to the midterm elections, you were working on a brand-new text alert project and reporting on topics like youth voter turnout and absentee ballot policies. How did you juggle those responsibilities during the week before and on Election Day? Any self-care secrets? Lots of coffee?

I always keep a notebook on me and have several lists going, including tracking story ideas and every individual task that needs to go into it: Call X, check on Y, request Z data. As Election Day neared, I could keep momentum going by always being able to see what stories I had coming up and what I needed to do to make them happen. My big thing is to always take time for lunch, which I always eat with friends. Taking half an hour in the middle of the day to sit down, eat, and talk with friends helps keep me sane.

What is the biggest difference between covering key election issues via text versus, say, a traditional news article?

Texts are SO SHORT. How do you explain the Affordable Care Act or the Republican tax overhaul in just a sentence or two? Having to cut things down to the point where they are short but still informative was a huge challenge.

What were some of the most frequently asked questions you received from readers during the text alert project?

It seemed like people really wanted to go deeper and learn more about the issues, even outside of the election focus we were using. It was clear there was a desire to engage more on the issues we covered — guns, the economy, healthcare — which was pretty cool. A lot of people wanted to know where to find more information. Some wanted to know how to actually leverage this information into political action: Now that they understand an issue better, how do they use that to vote?

What's the most surprising thing you learned from the project? Would you do it again?

I'm mostly just happy people seemed to like it and it was helpful to some people. Making our work accessible is so important, and it's been really gratifying to hear from people who said the texts helped them. I wouldn't want to do the exact same thing again, because I think we should be constantly evolving, but I'd love to do something similar!

Contact Jonathan Lai at jlai@phillynews.com or on Twitter @elaijuh.

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Comment of the week

I voted. 10 minute walk. 5 minute wait. 10 minute walk back. No coat. No rain. No problem. Vote everybody. Our tax money is at least on the line here. — satstevejohnson, on the importance of voting on Election Day.
A satyr tragopan eats lettuce from Camden County during a feeding demonstration at the Philadelphia Zoo’s Wings of Asia exhibit on Friday, Nov. 2, 2018. The zoo uses produce grown in Camden County’s hydroponic greenhouse to help feed its animals.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
A satyr tragopan eats lettuce from Camden County during a feeding demonstration at the Philadelphia Zoo’s Wings of Asia exhibit on Friday, Nov. 2, 2018. The zoo uses produce grown in Camden County’s hydroponic greenhouse to help feed its animals.

Your Daily Dose of | Teamwork 

Leafy greens are the hottest snack at the Philadelphia Zoo now that they've teamed up with Camden County to use a hydroponic greenhouse to help feed the animals.