Good to Hear – Elections and front page fairness

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Next week, voters around Union County will be going to the ballot box on a variety of local candidates and issues.
In truth, many votes in the county have already been cast.
The new wave of early voting has created a conundrum for local newspapers. Until recently, the vast majority of votes were cast on a single day— Election Day.
Several years ago, however, the state opened opportunity for early voting and it has been a popular option.
Two years ago, we asked members of our reader advisory board when they want us to run our election preview coverage — the week before election day as we have in the past, or several weeks before to inform early voters.
We got an almost even split of folks worried that if we ran it too soon they would forget and folks who wanted it early because they vote early.
This year we ran our series about three weeks before the election, hopefully early enough to inform voters but late enough that nothing major breaks and that people remember.
There are also other issues to consider. We strive to be fair with our coverage. I hope that while I cover these candidates and the positions they are running for, no one has any idea how I feel personally or how I would vote in the elections.
When we run features on individual candidates, we work to make sure that each candidate gets the same amount of coverage. Even so, there is a very real incumbent’s advantage in that when I cover city council, necessary comments of current council members are included, even if they are candidates.
Years ago, we had a candidate count the words and complain that another candidate got a longer story. This year, each candidate’s story was within 20 words of their competitors. We counted the words. Headshots are framed and measured to make sure no candidate’s face will appear bigger or smaller than an opponent’s.
Candidates were listed alphabetically in the story. We have used this approach for many years and feel it is the only way to order the stories fairly. Though some candidate stories appeared on page 2, we made sure each name was mentioned early in the story and their photos appeared on page 1.
I also asked the candidates the same questions. Even this can be tricky. We chose not ask one candidate about rumors of higher political aspirations that could cut short his local term. We knew that simply asking the question could cloud his candidacy.
Additionally, we chose to specifically avoid talking about party affiliation because all the local elections this year are for nonpartisan positions.
We are always pushing to make our news stories as balanced as possible. We want to keep our opinions confined to the Editorial Page.
We know some of the profiles do not contain exhaustive information, but it is our hope to create a snapshot of the candidate’s platform. We hope that voters will look further into each candidate and make an informed decision.
Most of all, we hope people will exercise their right to vote.
-Mac Cordell is a reporter for the Journal-Tribune.



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