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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Editorial Practices at 21 Newspapers in U.S. Metropolitan Cities

Editorial Practices at 21 Newspapers in U.S. Metropolitan Cities

In 2010, I co-managed Tyler Ingraham's candidacy for District 1 of Alamo Colleges. In the process, I learned that The San Antonio Express-News doesn't allow members of a campaign to observe its editorial interviews. Also, The San Antonio Express-News only provides a snippet of the information gathered during its editorial interviews to the public. For an hour, candidates for the board of trustees for Alamo Colleges responded to intelligent questions from veteran editors, yet only a sliver of this valuable information was made public. In the race for District 1, The San Antonio Express-News published only a 531-word editorial endorsing Thomas Hoy, a well-qualified candidate. However, Joe Alderete, a man indicted for stealing money as a city councilperson and the least-informed candidate, won. Had the editorial interview been made public, this may not have happened. If the editorial interviews of The San Antonio Express-News were made public -- with audio, transcripts or video -- San Antonians would have the opportunity to learn if candidates' answers to questions from well-informed editors are satisfactory. If the answers aren't satisfactory, the candidates don't deserve residents' votes. 

In other cities, editorial interviews are made public. In other cities, newspapers provide their readers with the valuable knowledge derived from editorial interviews.  

Given that I was barred from observing the Q&A with candidates for the board of trustees for Alamo Colleges and given that The San Antonio Express-News hasn't regularly provided audio, video or transcripts of its editorial interviews with candidates, I started a petition with Tyler Ingraham in an effort to improve the editorial practices of The San Antonio Express-News

After reading the petition, faculty at The University of Texas at San Antonio and San Antonio College encouraged me to research the editorial practices at other major, daily newspapers. I did, and here are the results. If I were to modify the petition directed at The San Antonio Express-News, I'd request that unabridged transcripts of all editorial interviews be made available to the public.    

Four questions were sent to daily newspapers in populous cities. The questions involve each newspaper's editorial practices. Responses primarily came from editorial editors. The report is attached.

Teasers from the Report: 

"We have discussed on numerous occasions the idea of videotaping the interviews and posting the videos online. We attempted to do it on several occasions but encountered resistance from the interviewees. (They agree to our policy that such interviews are on the record and will be audio-taped, but object to the videotaping.) Ironically, one of those who objected to the videotaping was Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former actor." -- Editorial and Opinion Editor William Osborne with The San Diego Union-Tribune

"It's already hard enough to get candidates to say anything substantive even when their comments are not going to be broadcast." -- Editorial Page Editor Bob Caldwell with The Oregonian 

Some Comments from Petitioners: 

"Dear Mr. Rivard, I thoroughly agree with Mr. Pohl; this would be a remarkable service to the community. If the service is also publicized it might increase voter turnout. (When my wife and I voted late in the day in the District 7 runoff for the Alamo Colleges Board, we were sixth and seventh voters for the day.) As an additional incentive, if you announce that you intend to follow Mr. Pohl's suggestion, I will hold off on my plan to cease subscribing to your ever dwindling, minimally covering, and poorly proof read newspaper." -- Dr. Charles Feldston 

"Since most voters know nothing about most of the candidates on a long ballot, making interviews with candidates public would provide an important service to representative democracy." -- Dr. Steven G. Kellman

"I have taught at SAC for many years, and I fully endorse the petition that is presented here. Making the interviews public would give voters much more information about the ACCD candidates for the board. More information should lead to more informed voters." -- Professor Janice Clayton 

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