Wick Communications

Surviving silly season

In journalism on May 12, 2016 at 3:25 pm
Courtesy Getty Images

Courtesy Getty Images

So there is this woman running for sheriff of Mohave County, Ariz. And there are these two people who can’t stand her. The candidate says they don’t like her because she once arrested one of them for assault. A supporter of the candidate wrote something unflattering about the opponents on Facebook. They sued in return.

Welcome to silly season.

The Lake Havasu News-Herald chronicles the dispute here. But, really, as we bear down on election season, you can read stories like that in most Wick newspapers. While they arouse white-flame passions locally, they always appear childish from afar. Interestingly, we tend to think there is something unique about our own local political climate that spawns stories like this, but trust me: this kind of stuff happens in every small town with an election.

Editors and reporters struggle with how to cover claims and counterclaims that often seem better suited for a school yard than a court of law. Usually, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Invariably, these come down to back-and-forth sorts of stories in which all you can hope to do is document each side’s claims and run for cover. (Here in Half Moon Bay, the battle du jour is over an obscure “official argument” against a ballot measure. One guy has sued claiming such arguments can only come from elected officials. He lost and is now appealing. … Not that anyone will actually read the written argument in question anyway. … Except for one fourth-grade class that used the specious arguments as a lesson in logic! That is making for a good column even as we speak.) …

Increasingly, I’m disinterested in this stuff. We need to cover the race for sheriff, but we might not need to cover the argument on Facebook over the race for sheriff.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you tussle with what to run:

  • Does the dispute have any bearing on a candidate’s ability to hold office?
  • Does it point to a fundamental hypocrisy? (For instance, if a get-tough-on-crime DA candidate was arrested for possessing marijuana some years back.)
  • Is there any truth to the claims?
  • Has the dispute reached the point of arrest or lawsuit? (That can be a tipping point as then you have documentation of something and not just innuendo.)

None of this will give you a cut and dry answer as to when to cover this stuff. But it might help you think it through.

Clay

 

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