The Republican National Convention kicks off Monday, marking the beginning of the final push to the 2016 presidential election.
Ahh, journalists love elections.
The political intrigue. The digging to find out about the candidates and fact-check their statements. The opportunity to step up to our highest calling — informing the electorate.
For editors, however, there’s also a dark side.
It’s my third presidential election as editor, and I know what’s coming. Over the next 113 days, a number of you will call or write me threatening to quit The News Tribune because of something you hate about our election coverage.
It happened in 2008 and again in 2012. And this campaign season already seems crankier than most.
So before you pick up that phone or pen that email, understand that I know you’re coming.
Here’s my list of the four reasons you’ll call threatening to quit the TNT, along with the responses you can expect from me.
Reason 1: “Your news coverage is so biased against ________ (fill in the name of your presidential candidate), I’m quitting.”
Every election season voters seem more entrenched on one side or the other. Social media and cable news shows (favoring either the left or the right) magnify this, allowing people to lock themselves in a media echo chamber that feeds them only stories that reinforce their beliefs.
While that gets passed off as news coverage, it’s not journalism at all.
Expect the TNT to publish stories with both positive and negative elements about both major candidates. Depending on your news diet, that might sound different from what you get from your other sources.
Does that mean our coverage is flawlessly unbiased? Of course not.
It could be a headline with double meaning. It could be an analysis piece that isn’t well marked. It could be a story we didn’t get into that day’s paper. We’ve done them all.
I encourage you to point out these transgressions when you see them. Please give me the specific story you’re talking about, which is easier to react to than a generalization that you think we’re completely biased.
We try to learn from these reader insights and correct our errors. We’re not perfect, but we work hard to be fair.
Reason 2: “I hated that column by ________ (fill in the name of a columnist you hate) on your editorial page so much, I’m quitting.”
If you agree with every column on our editorial page, there’s something wrong with you (no offense).
Our editorial folks don’t pick columns because they all espouse the same political leaning. They pick columns because they are interesting or explain a point of view or make you think about an issue in a different way.
You should expect to agree with some and disagree with others. Sometimes strongly.
We think it’s good for readers (and voters) to challenge their own beliefs and try to understand why those other crazy people think the way they do.
If you don’t accept that challenge, please skip the columns by ________ (fill in the name of a columnist you hate).
It will keep your blood pressure in check.
Reason 3: “Stop trying to tell me how to vote, or I’m quitting.”
Also on our editorial pages at this time of year are political endorsements made by our editorial board.
This is a longstanding newspaper tradition and one we’re proud to continue.
We do it because most people don’t have the same access to candidates that we do. We meet personally with them, ask them questions about the issues and tell readers who we think would best serve our community.
You can read our primary endorsements now on the opinion page of our website, and we’ll run a full list in print July 31. They include both Republicans and Democrats.
Some readers appreciate our opinions. Some use them so they can vote in the opposite direction.
If newspaper endorsements are not your thing, ignore them.
But as long as the TNT has an editorial board with a place for expressing our collective opinion, expect us to use it.
Reason 4: “Look what my friend sent me in a mass email (or the meme I read on Facebook). The TNT is hiding this from me, so I’m quitting.”
If you think the newsroom staff huddles daily to conspire about which news we’re going to hide from readers, you’re wrong.
Here’s one we got recently from a reader whose email begins: “Will we see this information in the Tacoma News Tribune?”
He shared a group email with photographs of Seddique Mateen, father of the man who killed dozens at an Orlando night club. One photo shows him posing in front of a doorway that purports to be at the U.S. State Department.
The caption says Mateen has “been a guest at Obama’s White House and Hillary’s State Department. I wonder what they were talking about?”
It adds: “You’re not going to find this in the mainstream media.”
No, in fact, you’re not.
That’s because Mateen is standing in a hallway not at the State Department, but in an office building across the street from the U.S. capitol. It’s the State Department’s liaison to Congress office, a building open to any Washington, D.C., tourist. Hillary Clinton’s nowhere to be seen, both because she never worked there and because the picture was taken in 2016, three years after she stepped down as secretary of state.
Don’t believe everything you read online, even when it’s shared by a friend.
I offer these nonpartisan websites that exist to fact-check information passed off as news. Yes, they also are on the internet, but I’ve used them for years and believe they do good reporting:
▪ Politifact.com — a Pulitzer Prize-winning site run by the Tampa Bay Times, a newspaper owned by a nonprofit institute.
▪ Factcheck.org — a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
▪ Snopes.com — founded in 1995 by David Mikkelson, a Los Angeles researcher whose site is listed among the top references online.
So don’t forward that email, don’t share that Facebook post, don’t call your editor, until you’ve done your homework. Fact-check it.
If it’s not true, don’t expect to see it in The News Tribune.
As we march toward the November election, remember two things: The most patriotic thing you can do is vote; and the most responsible thing you can do is cast an informed vote.
And yes, go ahead and call me. Truth is, I like having these conversations with readers.
I always learn something from them, and sometimes I think they do, too.