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Exploring newspaper roles at election time

For centuries, newspapers have played a significant role in our nation’s election process. We understand our importance in disbursing local, state and national election information, and we always take that responsibility seriously.

During the last several weeks, we have been publishing a series of stories and boxes outlining information about incumbents and challengers, as well as about local levies and two big statewide issues that voters will face Tuesday (or that early voters already have faced).

If you’re a regular reader to this column, you know I wrote about our coverage of those issues in last week’s column here.

Today we have yet another story intended to provide information voters need to make an educated decision about the proposed statewide issue that could make recreational marijuana use legal.

We have run dozens of letters from readers eager to share viewpoints about their favorite candidates, or voice opposition to those they don’t like. (The election letter deadline now has passed, but if you still would like to send a letter, I’ll be happy to consider posting it on our newspaper web page.)

Our staff has spent countless hours last month interviewing candidates as part of our endorsement process. We, of course, also take that job seriously, and try our best to endorse the candidates that we truly believe will bring the best level of leadership to their communities. On Monday’s Opinion page, you’ll find a recap of those endorsements.

Also inside today’s newspaper you’ll find a complete listing of all the local contested races, issues and liquor options that voters will see on Tuesday’s ballot.

I explain these things because, like every election season, I have been receiving phone calls and emails lately from many readers who question the things we do.

While the Opinion page may be home to our endorsements and to opinion columns or letters from writers sharing their opinions, we work hard to remain fair and balanced on the news pages, and particularly in the stories and boxes about different candidates.

This year, we are covering contested races in two counties with stories that appear in The Vindicator and the Tribune Chronicle. We started out in September sending letters and questionnaires to more than 200 candidates in contested races using the mailing addresses they listed with the board of elections. Unfortunately, each year many of those letters go unanswered. This year was no different.

Sometimes candidates say they didn’t get the letters, other times they just choose not to talk to our reporters. Still we try multiple times to seek comments and photographs of each. If you see articles missing a candidate’s comments or photo, you can bet it’s because he or she declined to return our candidate questionnaire or our request for an interview.

Because of the sheer number of races and candidates, it is impossible for us to endorse in every race, so we try to choose races that we feel have the most interest among readers, particularly focusing on larger communities or races that may have the most candidates facing off. Throughout the years, we have found that crowded races often are a signal controversy is brewing.

We try to do our homework on candidates by seeking information on their history and conducting personal interviews with each before deciding on an endorsement. As long as I’ve been editor, we have never issued an endorsement to a candidate who decided not to participate in our process.

Inevitably, after endorsements are published, we often hear from supporters of the political opponents who were passed over — or even from candidates themselves.

We stress that we strongly believe our shared opinions are just the starting point for conversations, not the be-all and end-all! At the end of the day, we simply can only hope the best candidate wins!

All in all, it’s been a very hectic few months, not only for the campaigning candidates, but also for the people here in the newsroom.

And it’s not over yet.

While our endorsement and election preview stories are done, now we are busy preparing for election night, when we plan to put together election results that you will find in your newspaper and online when you wake up Wednesday morning.

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