How to cover a city election from your La-Z-Boy


A while back I said I'd write something about this. The folks at the Tulsa Whirled have developed a skill of seeming to do actual news reporting, when in fact they're taking the easy way out. This is especially true when it comes to campaigns.

Today's Whirled articles about the District 4, District 2, and District 5 contests illustrate the point. Because I know several of the City Council candidates, I know that the candidates for the general election each received a questionnaire. The questions were, roughly, (1) what projects would you favor including on the next general obligation bond issue; (2) would you support a special sales tax earmarked for public safety; (3) would you support a special sales tax to fund public transit (the bus system); (4) what are your priorities.

So the candidates filled out their questionnaires. Whirled reporter Brian Barber then took the replies and rearranged the quotes, using some direct quotes and some paraphrasing, to make it look like he actually interviewed the candidates. All this without actually ever meeting the candidates face to face or even speaking to them by phone.

The Whirled did exactly the same thing, but with a different set of questions, during the primaries. The initial questionnaire also included a personal history, on which a candidate had to disclose any felonies, restraining orders, divorces, etc. The Whirled's questionnaire appears to come verbatim (without credit) from this website.

Rather than disclosing all the information provided by all the candidates, the Whirled chose to follow up and report information that would embarrass the candidates the editorial board opposes, and leave unreported anything embarrassing about the candidates the editorial board supports. For example, the Whirled didn't tell you about Randy Sullivan's pending divorce or that Tom Baker is on at least his third marriage (here's the marriage license for the marriage before his current one, in 1991). None of us are without sin or past mistakes, but it's clear that the Whirled didn't want its readers to know that its pet candidates had these kinds of problems, as it might be the factor to push a voter to the other side.

If the Whirled were going to actively pursue reporting on the campaign, they might interview the candidates themselves. They might attend candidate forums and campaign events. They might ask a candidate's supporters to say why they support one candidate and oppose the other. But this would require some actual effort.

But, dear Whirled reporters, if you're determined to take the easy way out, go all the way and print the responses you receive from the candidates as is. Don't go to the trouble of slanting them and making them look like a news story. Your readers will be better served if they read the candidates' own words. And you'll have that much more time to play solitaire on your computer!

MORE: One other thing that stinks about these articles -- it makes it appear that the candidates chose these issues to address, when they are answering the only questions the Whirled is allowing them to answer.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 29, 2004 3:48 PM.

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