Let the games begin.
For months, we’ve watched from afar as U.S. presidential candidates pitch and spar and politic. We’ve scrutinized them during televised debates and read about them in our own paper. So far, this election cycle promises to be more passionate, more partisan and more rancorous than ever.
Last week, the presidential campaigns came to life in Washington with the runup to Saturday’s Democratic caucuses.
Suddenly, the local interest couldn’t be hotter — on the candidates and on our news coverage.
“Not only is the national media basically ignoring Bernie Sanders’ campaign, but our hometown paper relegates his visit to our state to the back page while giving Hillary Clinton front page coverage ...” a reader wrote us last week. “The News Tribune couldn’t reveal their preference any more clearly. I for one would appreciate it if you kept your biases and opinions on the editorial page.”
The simple truth is, Clinton got dominant, front-page coverage because Clinton came to Pierce County. She visited with tribal representatives at the Chief Leschi School on the Puyallup Indian Reservation. We covered it extensively online, as well.
A visit by a presidential contender is a big local story. No apologies.
Bernie Sanders’ rally was in Seattle. (We tried to photograph his motorcade driving through Tacoma, but couldn’t get enough information from his campaign staff to know what time that would be.) We ran a small story on the back page of the A section.
We got the message, however. Many readers considered the Seattle rally a local event, as well, and certainly an important one statewide. Fair enough.
We got another chance Friday, when Sanders returned for a second Seattle rally. This time we ran a photo of him on the front page, with a bigger story, headline and second photograph on the back page. Not come-to-Tacoma coverage, but a more substantial — and appropriate — presence than before.
The response? This note came to us Saturday: “Your 2 page coverage of the looney tunes socialist Sanders (TNT 3/26) shows your hypocrisy. Clinton didn’t receive half the coverage you afforded Sanders, who will NEVER be elected president!”
Every election cycle, some readers accuse of us of plotting news coverage purposely to help or hurt a given candidate. I’ve never been part of a conversation like that in any newsroom.
In fact, we work to provide substance over sizzle and treat the candidates fairly. We review our own coverage daily, consider feedback from readers and adjust as we go.
Alongside covering stops on the campaign trail, we try to help readers understand where candidates stand on the issues.
Explicitly to inform people headed to Saturday’s caucuses, we ran side-by-side pieces Friday offering quotes from Sanders and Clinton on a host of issues. We meticulously selected and designed the stories so they spoke to the same issues, were exactly the same length and each included a photograph of the candidate. Even then, one reader thought our headlines were skewed against Sanders.
We’ll try to provide similar content in May before our state’s Republican primary. And our coverage for the general election will continue a focus on the issues.
We also will run as many candidate fact-checks as possible. They have proved to be some of our most valued election features.
For many stories on the presidential race, we depend on wire services rather than writing the stories ourselves. We’re making clear to those services the kind of content we’d like to provide our readers. Horse-race stories can be popular — even sensational — but we prefer pieces that educate voters.
The presidential election isn’t the only important one this year. In Pierce County, we’ll elect a new county executive and fill four County Council seats. Other races include those for the state Legislature and governor, along with U.S. House and Senate seats.
The News Tribune has joined a statewide coalition to host three debates each in Washington’s gubernatorial race and U.S. Senate race.
“We’ve formed a statewide Washington Debate Coalition to build enough citizen power that candidates and their handlers can’t refuse requests for public debates,” wrote Diane Douglas, executive director of the Seattle City Club, which organized the coalition. Former office-holders, including Democratic U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks and Republican U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, are endorsing the coalition. It includes civic organizations, including Tacoma City Club, universities and colleges, and many news organizations.
Together, we hope to bring a debate or two to the South Sound.
One positive note about this year’s election is that interest and participation is robust.
We encourage people to learn as much as they can about the candidates — those they favor and those they don’t — before they vote.
Informing the electorate in a democratic society was a job assigned to us by our country’s Founding Fathers. We’re committed to meeting that duty and want to be a place people can turn to for accurate, thorough and fair coverage no matter which candidate you favor.