Published on February 4, 2014
Covering Elections and Endorsing Candidates in Small Communities Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues University of Kentucky School of Journalism www.RuralJournalism.org Al Cross, Director and Associate Professor Down-Home Democracy Workshop Reynolds Journalism Institute University of Missouri January 31, 2014
Politics in small towns • • • • Try to be friends with all factions Personality features can help Don’t be defensive, or pugnacious Look for chances to make connections and show understanding
Politics in small towns • • • • Don’t treat it clinically Cover it like you’re at the Capitol Pull back the official curtain Write about local factions and patronage contacts – often, much power rests with those not in elective office
Politics in small towns • Write about the personalities and their personal connections
To endorse or not? • 90 percent of dailies do; most weeklies don’t • Generally, the smaller the paper, the less likely it is to endorse
To endorse or not? • 90 percent of dailies do; most weeklies don’t • Generally, the smaller the paper, the less likely it is to endorse • Reasons include risk, resources and relationships • Some races are too close for comfort • But that’s where you can have impact
To endorse or not? • Endorsements are most effective in local, nonpartisan elections when the candidates are unfamiliar, the ballot is long and complicated, or voters have received conflicting information or have conflicting loyalties. Other research suggests endorsements have more effect on referenda, and more in primary rather than general elections. (K.F. Rystrom, 1986, 1994)
To endorse or not? Arguments for: •The newspaper knows the people and the issues, or it should •It is in a unique position to inform and advance debate •Editorials can separate the wheat from the chaff in a stronger way than news stories
To endorse or not? Arguments against: •May cast a shadow on news coverage •People already know the candidates •Folks at the newspaper sure do: “In a smaller town, you often run into all the players at least weekly at church, Rotary, or on the street.” •But what’s “a smaller town”? In a nearby county of the same size . . .
To endorse or not? • The News-Enterprise example
The candidate the paper endorsed for county judgeexecutive, the county’s chief administrative office, won the election. He was the first Republican ever elected to that office in the county.
Editor Warren Wheat also began the practice of having two members from the community to serve rotating terms on the editorial board, to provide broader perspective.
To endorse or not? • Columns can provide an alternative, short of endorsement • Editorials can analyze and offer perspective short of endorsement • Play it straight, don’t get cute, and be self-aware • Whatever you do, make sure you have some sort of editorial voice
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