By: Don Heinzman
Here we go again. It’s time for all the political campaign chatter, during what is becoming known to newspaper editors and reporters as “the silly season”.
Actually political campaigns are important when the candidates’ sole purpose is to introduce themselves, their positions on serious issues and tell why they are more qualified than their opponents.
Instead, candidates are hammering away at one another mainly, in television advertising. Local community campaigns are saner, but lately they are resorting to name calling and avoiding answering the real issues.
One major change in our newspaper business is the candidate’s love affair with television advertising and social media.
You need to understand, many of these candidates take newspaper stories for granted, so they figure why advertise in them? They are right.
Here comes my big message. We are giving away too many inches of our valuable space to these candidates.
You see each serious candidate has a marketing adviser who is directed to get as much free space in our print media.
We make it easier for them by running publicity releases, sometimes word for word, long letters to the editor and publishing Voters Guides. I have come to believe candidates only should be included in the Special Section Voters Guides if they advertise in them.
Of course, good newspaper editors, assign stories on political contests, particularly the ones where there are real close.
Naturally, editors need to tell readers important facts in regular news columns, who is running for what, the election date, the polling places and analyzing the election editorially two weeks before the election.
We who have to evaluate letters to the editor and campaign publicity releases need to be on guard for these sneak attacks on our space.
Therefore, I advise.
- One introductory story of the candidate, rewritten if possible, and one photograph. After that politicians have to make the news.
- A limit on the number of letters on behalf of the candidate. Many of them aren’t even written by the signer.
- Allow the candidate to respond in a letter when only they can correct inaccuracies of challengers who write letters.
- No printing of endorsements of candidates by organizations, except by political parties at conventions.
- No printing of political party releases except to use them as the basis for a news story. Give that copy to your advertising salesperson for an advertisement.
Sounds tough? Yes. Tell readers what they need to know about the election, but don’t hand out the political fluff that they should read in an advertisement in their newspaper.
I recommend reading Jim Pumarlo’s book on this topic: “Votes and Quotes: A Guide to Outstanding Election Coverage”.
Don Heinzman is a consultant who can improve the quality of weekly community newspapers. He has 50 years of experience reporting, editing and managing community weekly papers. Phone 612-986-4732 or firstname.lastname@example.org.