Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

November 20, 2008
Election issue criticism deserves explanation, renewed commitment

We’ve received several complaints from readers about our coverage of the recent election. Some readers objected to our not publishing a print edition the day after the election. Others were upset we did not publish a photo of President-elect Barack Obama or a stand-alone article on his historic accomplishment in being the first black elected to the presidency. Some readers accused us of racism or bias against Democrats. Others felt our local focus on lower-than-expected voter turnout and the runaway nature of most of the county’s races was myopic and provincial.

I’ll try to respond to these complaints as best I can. Hopefully this will explain why we made the choices we did, though I certainly don’t expect all readers to agree with those choices.

Over the past 50 years, the Transcript-Bulletin has traditionally published a Wednesday paper following national and major county elections — roughly every other year. In recent years, however, there have been times we have not adhered to this practice. For example, in 2004, the last presidential election year, we did not publish a Wednesday paper. Nor did we last year. Our guide of late on whether or not to publish on Wednesdays has typically been the level and intensity of local races. In 2006, for example, with two county commission seats up for grabs and two tight legislative races, we did publish on Wednesday. The last two years, however, we used our Web site to break election coverage early on Wednesday morning, then tried to follow up with more analytical stories in Thursday’s print edition.

That said, talking with readers has convinced me we are making the wrong decision in choosing not to publish Wednesday election issues. Several readers have pointed out that many people in the community don’t access news via the Internet. Many others have said they like the tradition of their local paper delivering immediate election results the next morning.

I agree. If this is important to readers, it has to be important to us. From here on, we’ll recommit to publishing a print edition on Wednesdays following every general election.

This is no small undertaking for us. In the past, it has involved organizing dozens of carriers and feeding them breakfast early on Wednesday morning, reshuffling press schedules, changing advertising deadlines, keeping the editorial staff up all night covering returns, and getting the design staff to lay out the paper well before dawn. But the loyalty readers have shown us through their passionate feedback proves that all this endeavor is worthwhile.

Regarding our recent election coverage, our intent was not to ignore the presidential race but rather to focus on local politics. The lead sentence of our lead story tried to encapsulate that: “On a day when Americans turned out in record numbers to elect the first black president in the nation’s history, only one race in Tooele County was truly competitive while local voter turnout fell far short of expectations.”

Our decision not to feature Obama’s victory on the front page was not made out of bias. We did not feature victories by George W. Bush in 2000 or 2004 on A1. We simply felt that mentioning the result of the presidential race was sufficient for a local paper whose mandate is to focus on local issues. There are too many other media outlets covering a presidential election for us to add anything original. Our competitive advantage as a hometown newspaper lies in the fact that our reporters can talk to local candidates and voters. That was illustrated last year, when our lead election issue story and photo were devoted to Dave McCall, the first black to win a seat on the Tooele City Council.

A quick scan of other non-daily papers across the state seems to indicate they feel like we do. Most used their election issues to focus on local races and few featured Obama on their front page.

Large dailies across the nation reaped a windfall the day after the election when their newsstand sales skyrocketed. Many papers sold extra issues commemorating Obama’s historic victory. But, as Salt Lake Tribune columnist Rebecca Walsh pointed out in a recent column, many of those same papers have had nothing but bad news behind the scenes — declining circulation, declining ad revenue, mass newsroom layoffs — for several years. On the other hand, smaller community newspapers have generally done quite well over the same time period, largely by focusing intensely on local news the dailies can’t or won’t cover — such as local elections.

At the Transcript-Bulletin, we’re committed to the idea of covering local news first. But if there are ever ways we can do that better — such as publishing Wednesday election issues — we will make changes to serve readers. I appreciate all the reader feedback that’s come to us over the past several days. As always, please keep letting us know how you think we’re doing.

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