Maybe you’ve seen the T-shirt: “I’m not trying to annoy you. It’s effortless.”
This week, the Messenger has apparently become a major annoyance to the Wise County Democratic Party leadership, with virtually no effort.
It has long been our practice to run “announcement” stories when a candidate – from the Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Green or whatever party – kicks off a campaign for office. We don’t charge for that. We consider it newsworthy and a service to our readers.
Those stories may include news releases, but we edit them, and in most cases we assign reporters to interview the candidate and do a real story.
At this point, while we wouldn’t shy away from any controversies the candidate may have been involved in, we don’t seek out opposing views. The purpose is to announce their candidacy and give a rundown of their background and qualifications, why they’re running for the office, etc.
The opposing view comes – and this may be a shocker – when there’s an actual opponent.
Our Tuesday Update had an item noting Chico mayor J.D. Clark was planning to announce his candidacy for Wise County judge and that we would have a story in the midweek Messenger.
Tuesday morning we got a “news release” from Democratic party chair Tracy Smith – a fairly detailed list of reasons Clark may not be qualified for the office. A good bit of it focused on his age, the size of Chico city government versus the size of county government and positions he has taken as mayor.
It also contained some baseless accusations and linked Clark with some things a mayor has absolutely no control of, in Chico or anywhere else.
Emails and phone calls followed, making sure we’d gotten Smith’s release in time for our deadline so it could be included in Clark’s announcement story. We were informed that, in order to be fair, we were obligated to include the opposing view.
No, we’re not.
Here are our obligations:
- To the candidates: To treat them fairly, cover legitimate news in which they’re involved and provide an advertising medium in which thousands of readers can see their ads.
- To the readers: Provide factual information on candidates, campaign events and election dates and offer a forum in which they can voice their opinions.
- To the political parties: None.
Here’s our policy: The filing period opens Nov. 9 and closes Dec. 9. We’ll continue to run announcement stories through the Dec. 11 issue. After that, candidates are invited to buy advertising.
Once the filing period closes, we’ll run letters to the editor as we receive them, endorsing or critiquing candidates. Those letters need to be brief (200 words or less) and factual, and focus on issues rather than personal attacks.
We’ll run political letters through Feb. 22, 2014. After that, a candidate might not have time to respond before the March 4 primary election – and that wouldn’t be fair.
Smith’s letter might indeed provide some valuable talking points for someone running against Clark, but to this point, no Democrat has announced as a candidate in this race.
The only other announced candidate is the incumbent, County Judge Bill McElhaney – but as a Republican, it’s unlikely he is looking to Democratic leadership for his talking points.
What is likely is that this newspaper, by the end of the political season next November, will have annoyed all the candidates and all the parties.
Some will undoubtedly read some kind of bias between these lines, but there isn’t any. We’re not on a side. Our policies and practices are open, consistent with those of most real newspapers, and they will continue to be applied equally to all – even those who kick off the campaign season by accusing us of having no ethics.
If you don’t believe it, just send us a letter (after Dec. 9) – or better yet, a candidate.