Getting to know the candidates
Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 26, 2003
The election for our next clerk of court is a little over a week away. It will be none too soon for me.
In nearly 20 years in this business, I can recall no local election that has sparked as much controversy or been waged as aggressively as this one. And the News-Herald has been caught in the middle of much of it.
Covering local elections is difficult for a small paper such as ours. We have to ask what is news and what is merely advertising. The news is free, the ads you have to pay for. And it’s a question we’ve struggled with in this election from the get-go.
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For example, are endorsements news? We informally determined early on that we supposed they were. But then one candidate seemed to get all of the endorsements and it not unjustifiably appeared to his opponents and much of our readership, that News-Herald was backing that candidate. We were not.
I had another candidate who sent in photos of practically every time he went to the bathroom during the campaign. Was that news? I didn’t think so. In fact, it was pretty disgusting.
I’ve had confrontations with several of the candidates over our coverage, and some of their spouses. It hasn’t been any fun.
Since I’ve been at the News-Herald, just over three years, we’ve formally endorsed candidates in state, national and local elections. I believe strongly that it is a newspaper’s duty to look closely at each candidate and recommend to its readers the woman or man who would do the best job for the citizenry. Most people are too busy with their jobs and families to really investigate each candidate. We have the time. It’s our job.
Sure, it causes some hard feelings and also some awkward moments when you bump into someone you chose not to support, but it comes with the job.
We had planned on endorsing in the clerk’s race, but based upon what I mentioned above, I’ve decided against it. Many people have accused us of being biased from the start and I feel it would be best because of that not to endorse.
Over the past week each candidate – Johnny Edwards, Kirk Pretlow, Robert Nelms, Barbara Gayle, Clinton Jenkins, Randy Carter and Tony Brown – has been kind enough to come in and sit down for an hour or so with me and members of our news department for an in-depth interview (Actually, Mr. Brown is expected to come in Monday).
In the past, we’ve sent candidates lists of questions for them to answer and then published those. But this race was different. The winner will not have any influence over property tax rates, government services or social policies, so their political philosophy is not really at issue. What we wanted to do was attempt to simply tell our readers about the kind of people who are attempting to represent them – who they are, who influenced them, their hopes and dreams, etc. Those interviews will be published this week beginning Tuesday and should make for some good reading.
So regardless of what you’ve thought of our campaign coverage, I honestly have not attempted to sway it in any one person’s favor. Based upon the interviews we conducted, each candidate is serious about the race and serving the people of Suffolk and I think any one of them will do his or her best to do just that. I wish them all good luck next Tuesday. It’s an important job – at least that’s what I’ve been told, and we’re fortunate to have good field from which to choose. Nonetheless, I’ll be glad when it’s over and hope whoever wins stays in office as long as Henry Murden did because I think I could handle this only once or twice a century.
Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.