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Published on Jim Pumarlo (http://pumarlo.com)

Pumarlo encourages consistency, endorsements

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors Newsletter/September/October 2007

Whether you believe you’re doing it right or whether you fear you might be doing it wrong, Jim Pumarlo’s latest book “Votes and Quotes” is worth reading if you want to give your readers solid campaign and election news and opinion.

Covering political campaigns and elections is an important part of our commitment to community journalism. But like much of what happens in the weekly, monthly and annual cycles of news events, campaigns and elections can easily become routine. Too often we simply follow the patterns and processes of what we did the last time.

Reading “Votes and Quotes” serves as a reality check and offers opportunity to review, rethink and revitalize the way we offer both the candidates and our readers the best service.

Pumarlo covers a wide range of topics in his 164-page book. Each of the 15 chapters is devoted to a specific topic, addressed in considerable detail and in a style that’s readable and thought-through. Pumarlo, who spent 21 years as editor of the Red Wing (Minn.) Republican Eagle, writes from experience and he’s not afraid to share his stance on how newspapers should approach campaigns and elections.
“It’s amazing and troubling how many newspapers handle initial campaign announcements in a haphazard fashion,” he writes in chapter two, titled “Campaigns: From beginning to end.”

“There is no right or wrong way, but consistency is imperative.”

In a chapter devoted to letters to the editor, Pumarlo lobbies for policies and consistency. And he makes no bones about his feelings on the practice by some to charge for “paid” letters that endorse candidates.

“It’s a dangerous path when editors start restricting access to editorial pages simply on the basis of supporting a candidate for elective office — the very heart of the democratic process.

Pumarlo notes two reasons frequently given for implementing paid letters are that they lack substance or they replace paid ads. “If those are truly the reasons,” Pumarlo says, “many newspapers better rethink what kind of letters they accept year-round.”

He also weighs in on endorsements; the title of chapter five is clear – “Don’t shirk responsibility of endorsements.”
“If newspapers believe so strongly in calling government bodies to action, or criticizing them for lack of action, shouldn’t they have equally strong convictions about the people who ultimately make those decisions? If newspapers tout their roles as government watchdogs, endorsing candidates for elected bodies should be at the top of editor’s responsibilities,” he writes.

“Endorsements in local races might be the most sensitive, but they are also the most meaningful,” he continues. “Newspapers are in the best position to research local candidates and concerns … isn’t that the true calling of newspapers — to share their knowledge, concern and expertise for betterment of their community?”

Whether you share his opinions or disagree with him, Pumarlo gives readers reason to think.

The chapters are broken down into bullet-point subsections that give detailed thoughts and observations. There are tips on interviewing candidates, suggestions for candidate profiles, graphics and voter guides. He also has a chapter titled “Utilizing the Web.”

In “Votes and Quotes,” Pumarlo provides start-to-finish observations including a chapter titled “Coverage doesn’t end with election edition."

Throughout the book are examples of columns, policies and situations that help bring home his point — that newspapers have opportunities and responsibilities to do a better job of providing leadership on elections in their communities. It begins with planning and it ends with execution.

Reading “Votes and Quotes” will help every community journalist think about how we cover candidates and election with new insights … and very likely better results.

Tim Waltner
Publisher
Freeman (S.D.) Courier
Former president, The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors


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