Magazine article St. Louis Journalism Review

A Review of Election Coverage

Magazine article St. Louis Journalism Review

A Review of Election Coverage

Article excerpt

In the age of shrinking readership, focus groups, spot ads, news spinners and mass mailings, it is hardly surprising that newspaper endorsements and voter guides are no longer widely regarded as a key influence on the outcome of elections. Nevertheless, local papers took their responsibility seriously and weighed in with recommendations that may have had some influence on the Aug. 2 primary election.

While the overall tenor of campaign coverage still leaves much to be desired, local papers intensively covered the candidates both in their news and editoria sections during the weeks leading up to the primary election.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A particularly useful series of five lengthy articles by Jo Mannies, St. Louis Post-Dispatch political correspondent, presented contrasting views of seven Democratic, five Republican, and two Libertarian U.S. Senate candidates. The inclusion of the Libertarians, in their first state wide primary, sets an important precedent for future coverage of smaller parties which gain regular ballot access. Beginning on Sunday, July 23, with health care, the paper followed the next four days with the candidates' views on crime, foreign policy the economy and welfare.

The series, "Senate Candidates Address the Issues" was well formatted. In the upper right hand corner of the News Analysis page, photos of all 14 candidates (save one, for Republican Joyce Lea) were presented daily, with a brief summary usually including a quotation, of the candidates' position on that day's issue. Two or three paragraphs elaborating each position made up the full article. The only complaint one might have with the series is that as usual the News Analysi page, one of the most informative and engaging parts of the newspaper, was buried at the back of the B section, behind the want ads.

Particularly interesting were the positions of some of the minor candidates. Fo example, Democrat Ned Sutherland strongly advocated destruction of nuclear and germ warfare canisters in both the U.S. and Russia, while Doug Jones took the surprising position, for a Republican, that the U.S. spends too much on defense and must maintain foreign aid spending. On the other hand, Democrat Jim Hawley seemed stuck in a John Birch Society time-warp with his demand for America "to have the strongest military might on the face of the Earth."

While the quixotic candidates might have seemed extreme at times, voters probably were more informed about the issues after reading their positions than the ambiguous pap served up by the major candidates. Wheat opposed defense systems that are too costly (Does anyone favor too costly defense systems?). Murphy advocated paring the budget without hurting national security. (Can anyone define whether this means she is for or against further cuts?), and Ashcroft said, "Defense spending may have already been cut beyond safe levels." (Doesn't he have an opinion yet?)

Candidates would be well advised to make sure that good publicity photos are available for such features. Democrats Alan Wheat, Marsha Murphy and Jim Thomas all beamed the politician's smile, while Gerald Ortbals looked as though he might be more at home on the "People in Business" page. The photos of Ashcroft and the two Libertarians looked as if they had been lifted from a yearbook for an Officer Training School Class. Democrat Ned Sutherland looked like a friendl neighbor who would loan you his lawnmower for the whole summer if you needed it Jim Hawley's photo made him appear as though scotch tape were holding up his eyelids.

The Post also published a detailed Voter's Guide on Sunday, July 31 covering th primary. It included Senate and House candidates' pictures, brief biographies and their policy priorities. Featured also were photos of other candidates, map of state election districts, summaries of referendum issues and a listing of county, city and municipal candidates.

The Riverfront Times

The Riverfront Times did not run a voter's guide, but it did produce in its Jul 13-19 edition an "RFT Progressive Index," a guide to the votes of state legislators, compiled by Susan Langlois. …

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