This means we all get to enjoy months of TV commercials both extolling the virtues of many office-seekers coupled with attacks on their opponents. No doubt the on-air ads will be for those seeking national and statewide office, since they will be the ones who can afford the air time. Thank goodness I have a digital recorder so I can fast-forward through them while watching my TV shows. The little guys, such as those running for city councils or mayor’s seats, will likely be sticking to local appearances and maybe a few radio or print ads. Too bad I can’t fast-forward through those.
Candidates will also be seeking plenty of editorial space in newspapers such as this one. A few have already come by the Tribune office for a formal visit or just to drop off their information. I particularly applaud those running for statewide office who take the time to come to our humble little paper.
Knowing these folks want as much coverage as they can get, we have to plan our strategy for reporting on the campaigns in order to maintain as much balance and fairness as we can. Last year, we took the approach of trying to write a story on each individual but we did not successfully cover each and every person. As an editor, I neglected to give readers all the information they needed by leaving some folks out. It was not intentional -- simply a result of some oversight and a lack of adherence to my plan.
This year, I have put my very capable reporter Sarah Cooper in charge of the plan for election season coverage. The strategy for this year is to make our coverage issue-centric. By that I mean we will keep on file a record of each candidate’s position on pertinent topics so when writing an article we can include how each person involved in a particular race stands on the subject. For example, if Ron Schmitt holds an event to talk about himself as a potential mayor and says the Legends at Sparks Marina is the greatest thing to happen to the city since sliced bread, we can refer to our notes and include that his opponent, incumbent Mayor Geno Martini, thinks Legends is the greatest thing since the all-you-can-eat spaghetti special and that fellow mayoral competitor Gene Newhall thinks Legends is a rotten banana dipped in chocolate. This way, we do not make any one article about one person; rather, we make it about the issues on which they are vying for residents’ votes.
Being that the Tribune’s columnists are very concerned about what happens in their community, it is no surprise that some of them decide to run for office. Last election, Tuesday writer and longtime Sparks resident Larry Wilson ran for City Council. Going against the journalism ethical grain, I allowed Wilson to keep writing his column even though protocol dictates that any candidate should not be given print space in the interest of fairness to their opponents. I thought as long as I forbade him from writing about issues pertaining to his campaign that I would be in the clear, but I see that in hindsight I was wrong. I should have taken the safe path and told him he needed to take a hiatus until after the election. I will not make that mistake again. One of our columnists, Ira Hansen, is running for office and he will not be writing each week while he campaigns.
As a result, I will be needing to fill a hole in each Sunday’s opinion page. Anyone who can write 800 words intelligently and on deadline about local issues is welcome to apply. My e-mail address is at the bottom of this column.
Finally, election season means we journalists get to feel really involved in the democratic process. We get to roll up our sleeves and delve into the minds of candidates, asking questions that try to get at the heart of what they really stand for and what they would do in office to improve the lives of their constituents. In other words, we try to highlight the democratic ideals that shine in all of us at this hopeful time before the realities of political life set in, when elected officials no longer have to please the electorate and do whatever crazy things they want.
It all culminates in election night, when reporters huddle around polling places and wait for returns. It’s a good time to buy stock in coffee and alcohol, since a lot of each will be consumed that night by winners, losers and reporters. After we all come down from our respective highs, we go back to budget crises and lip service while immediately thinking about what the results of this election mean for the next one. It’s a vicious but strangely beautiful cycle.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to put fresh batteries in my remote.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.