Monday, October 30, 2006

Do endorsements matter ... part 2

The consensus answer about journalists appears to be yes. Two area bloggers have weighed in on this topic with their own blog enteries. If you are interested in this topic it is worth your time to read these.

First up, Tony Messenger at the Springfield News-Leader. His Sunday column on this topic was well reasoned.

Tony had several comments that should be repeated here. First:

Well, I can speak only for myself, but I believe the process is important. I don't make editorial endorsements because I have any intention of predicting the winners. I don't make editorial endorsements because I expect to have a serious effect on voting patterns. I make them because I believe it's an important part of the political process.

And then this conclusion:

Finally, the editorial endorsement, I believe, is important in what it says about the newspaper's philosophy.

Who we endorse, and why we endorse them, says a lot about what we believe as an editorial staff. It helps us decide among ourselves what values are important, and it helps define for our readers who we believe we are.

In effect, the end result is of less importance than the process.

We don't have a vested interest in who wins and which party gains power. For us, it's not a horse race and it's not a basketball pool.

Second, Randy Turner of the Turner Report gives an example from his own experience.

Randy's comments on the subject are best summed up in his conclusion when he writes:

I would say they are still important, but nowhere near as important as they were in the past. They are not going to have any effect on those who made up their minds before the race got underway. Those who are going to vote for Democratic candidates no matter what are not going to change, and the same applies for those who are only going to vote for Republican candidates. For those whose minds are not made up, a well-reasoned endorsement could make a difference, especially if the editorial board that makes that endorsement goes about the process in an evenhanded fashion.

Would you still like to weigh in? Your comments here are welcome.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Candidate forums good but are threats needed?

Generally, I'd say candidate forums are good for the community and something newspapers should sponsor.

This year, Christian County is a hotbed of local politics and the newspaper is right in the middle of the fuss. The newspaper has taken strong editorial stands in favor of candidates and certain positions. That is, afterall, one of the functions of a newspaper.

Reporters from the Christian County Headliner are also moderating and asking questions at a candidate forum. I suppose that is fine. Who would know more about the issues in a county than the reporters who cover that county?

I do think there is a fine ethical line being walked here since the newspaper should be striving for unbiased news reporting. That can become difficult if reporters or editors get too connected with certain candidates or issues.

But my larger concern is whether or not the newspaper is using threats to get candidates to partcipate. I agree that candidates should be excited about a candidate forum but what if they believe they are going to be ambushed? That is a different issue. And what would make a candidate think the forum might not be fair? Read these lines from an editorial in the Headliner on 10-25-06:

The incumbent Sen. Dan Clemens, Republican from Marshfield, has not yet responded to our invitation. We've spoken to his campaign organization a number of times but as of press time he remained unresponsive.

Incumbents often say they have nothing to gain by participating in the process to which they were elected. Well Sen. Clemens you may have nothing to gain by showing up tomorrow, but you will have a lot to lose if you don't.
If a candidate doesn't have enough respect for his or her constituents to come face-to-face with them at any time, let alone at election time, they certainly are not worthy of your vote.

I don't know Sen. Clemens. I've never met him but this reads to me more like a threat than a promise to conduct a fair candidates forum. I'm wondering if those threats have been used with other candidates ... and I wonder about the ethics involved?

What are your thoughts?

Do newspaper endorsements matter?

Do newspaper endorsements of political candidates matter? I would like to think that they do but more and more research is showing that endorsements have little (or no) impact on the outcome of elections. Interesting.

Seems like the biggest use of newspaper endorsements these days is for fodder in a candidate's advertisement. You know, Candidate X, endorsed by the Anytown Newspaper, etc.

Yes, newspapers need to take an active role in the community and do what they can to foster community discussion of issues. Endorsement of candidates is one way to do just that. So, in that sense, I suppose endorsements are good but do they matter?

A research article in the American Journalism Review supports the growing belief that endorsements do NOT matter to voters.

Here is a bit of what that article has to say:

Research on the electoral influence of newspaper endorsements is scarcer than a liberal at a Wall Street Journal editorial board meeting. Most of the data was compiled before the burgeoning Internet and the cacophony of cable TV further dulled whatever edge a newspaper endorsement gave one candidate over another. ...

"The direct effect of editorials does not appear to be significant enough to find ... The effect of newspaper endorsements is largely created through advertising about them that is sponsored by the candidate."

... the impact of endorsements on national or even regional elections – contests in which candidates are well-known among voters – is negligible.

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Bolivar editor makes good suggestions about Sunshine Law

Charlotte Marsch, editor of the newspaper in Bolivar, Moo., makes a good suggestion about how the Sunshine Law can be better used in her community.

Randolph County Presiding Commissioner Jim Myles offers some good advice to county commissions regarding compliance with Missouri's Sunshine Law: "Do it yourselves and be committed to keeping the public informed with good agendas and good minutes before someone gets the attorney general and forces you to."

That was said after Randolph County endured a special state audit and an investigation by the attorney general's office due to allegations of decisions made in secret meetings. The county now has a nine-page policy that guides the county's compliance with the Sunshine Law.

Myles said it was "like pulling teeth" to get the county in compliance with the law.

The way county commissions conduct business and hold meetings varies around the state. Polk County has not been complying with the requirement to post a detailed agenda for each meeting. The commission needs to consider some options for how to make the courthouse more open to taxpayers and be in compliance with the Sunshine Law.

A good first step would be to develop a Sunshine Law policy. It doesn't necessarily have to be nine pages, but it needs to be in place so there are no questions about how the county should be conducting its business - in the sunshine for taxpayers to know how their money is being spent.

Once again we offer the idea of having individual commissioners taking shifts working in the office to gather public input and to carry out already determined policy. All discussion leading to votes, and those votes, then could take place in a public meeting at a designated time reasonable for the public to attend and reasonable in duration.

With a new presiding commissioner to be elected in November and coming on board in January, the Polk County commission has a great opportunity to make some changes to comply with the Sunshine Law.

What do you think? Any thoughts or comments? If you have an editorial on the Sunshine Law that you would like to see posted just send me a copy.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Sunshine Law Blog

It has been pointed out to me that Jean Maneke has a blog on Sunshine Law matters at Check it out.

If you have written editorial comments on the Sunshine Law e-mail them to me and I'll post them here over the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Know your Sunshine Law says expert

Missouri Press Association legal consultant and media attorney Jean Maneke fields a minimum of 50 Sunshine Law related questions and concerns every month from newspapers throughout Missouri.

The questions range from incidents involving school boards who secretly gather inside a member's funeral home to discuss ousting the school superintendent to questions about whether city council members can attend a social function without posting a meeting.

“I get calls from both weekly and daily newspapers and although there are times that groups or individuals are purposefully trying to skirt around the openness law, most of my calls stem from people who simply do not understand the law,” said Maneke.

That is why Maneke encourages public and elected officials to “err on the side of openness” by always posting a notice.

Other organizations, like quasi-public bodies and entities that enter contract agreements with public entities, are also subject to the Sunshine law.

“It is important to note that Missouri’s Attorney General has issued an opinion that efforts to circumvent the Sunshine Law can be construed as a violation,” said Maneke.

Documents generated by technology, like e-mails, are now getting a lot of attention when it comes to openness laws.

“Many entities are finding e-mails can easily become part of the public record,” said Maneke.

Another issue that drew lots of questions was Maneke’s observation that the law does not require public entities, boards or councils to have a public commentary section on a meeting agenda.

“If a topic is not on the agenda, officials should only listen during the public comments and steer clear of any dialogue or discussion on these public matters until it can be placed on the agenda and posted,” said Maneke.

She also noted that the Sunshine Law does not require closed sessions.

"Closing a meeting is a privilege, not a requirement," said Maneke.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Another example of citizen journalism

I've written before about "open source" or "citizen journalism." There are a few successful examples of this style of journalism in the Ozarks but another one has just debuted here in Springfield: Your Panorama.

Korpella Publishing, LLC, located in Springfield, Mo., owns and operates Your Panorama. This same company started as the publishers of Job Source, a weekly employment guide to Springfield and Branson. That grew into employ! magazine, which led to

Check it out and then let other readers know what you think. Is there a future for citizen journalism of this sort?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

New Media and Enduring Values

The Missouri School of Journalism and the Committee of Concerned Journalists will commemorate their alliance at an upcoming symposium at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The theme of the event - the 2006 Curtis B. Hurley Symposium - will be "New Media, Enduring Values." It will be held from 9-11 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 17, with a continental breakfast served at 8:30 a.m.

The new partners - the world's first journalism school and a coalition of more than 9,000 journalists worldwide - will announce projects that exhibit the kind of work their partnership makes possible. All are designed to point toward promising ways in which journalism's most important values can be translated, and made even more effective, in the digital world.

"All these projects are aimed at answering the difficult question on so many minds today: How do we ensure that those principles that make journalism indispensable will survive and even thrive in the digital world?" said Geneva Overholser, who holds the Hurley chair at the School.

To learn more follow this LINK.

Friday, October 06, 2006

“You Be the Editor 2006” Online Poll Has a Few Surprises

Professional journalists are faced with, and must address, ethical issues and choices daily.

“It is an issue that is so important that professional journalists and members of the reading public need to be reminded of it,” said David Burton, civic communication specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

The Southwest Missouri Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, in conjunction with University of Missouri Extension’s Southwest Region News Service, has been conducting a new “You Are the Editor” online survey at

To date, 60 persons have responded to the online questionnaire. A majority of those responding (25%) are “non-media” members of the public. Editors and publishers made up 18.3% of respondents. A total of 35% are “media,” editors, publishers, reporters, columnists, broadcasters or “other.” Another 36.6 percent – free-lance writers, copy editors, bloggers and educators -- are classified as being “media connected.”

A .pdf report on the survey, which includes charts comparing different groups responding to the poll, can be found HERE.

Monday, October 02, 2006

"You Be the Editor!" Results are in

Results from the online survey for the 2006 "You Be the Editor" program are now complete. Well, sort of. You can still take the survey online HERE. I've been told about a couple of college classes that are going to use this material so I suspect the number of survey takers will increase beyond the 50 who have taken it as of today.

Anyway, the results from the survey are posted online in .pdf format. Those result summaries can be found HERE. I've broken the summaries out for members of the media who took the survey, members of the public, and people who are "media connected." You can compare those groups to each other or to the total survey numbers.

In a few days I'll post a story summarizing these news numbers.

As more people take the survey I will update the result postings (probably after every 10 additional submissions).

In the meantime, thanks again to Tony Messenger at the Springfield News-Leader for posting the link to this survey on this blog.