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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: So much campaign coverage, so few readers or voters

By Tom Warhover
March 30, 2012 | 4:48 p.m. CDT

Dear Reader,

I particularly liked the profiles this week of the candidates for City Council. They gave me a look in to these candidates as people who have families, hopes, failures and successes in their personal lives. In turn, I feel like I have clues as to how they will act in public.


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You can find them all in the 2012 Voters Guide online and in Sunday’s print edition. There you’ll find information on every candidate in the City Council and School Board elections; background on the school district’s ballot issues; plus, tips to find a convenient polling place and what you’ll need to provide once you get there; and a roundup of other races in Boone County.

You also can see and hear the council candidates in video interviews. They won’t win an Emmy award anytime soon. But there’s a ton of good information, not only in what the candidates say but also in how they respond to the Missourian's questions.

In a post on the Watchword blog, reporter Kip Hill describes how the questions were drawn from you, the readers.

Taken together, the coverage represents a fairly exhaustive review of the people we’ll choose on Tuesday to lead the schools and the city. One candidate complained to public life editor Scott Swafford that the reporters and photojournalists were asking too much of him in time and effort – until he saw how all that reporting came together in the published reports.

It seems increasingly Pollyannaish to assume the in-depth coverage is worth the effort in the days of slash-and-burn sound bites, where campaigns – even local ones – are controlled by media buys and polling strategists.

The kind of campaign coverage at the Missourian isn’t based on “if it bleeds, it leads.” The articles are rarely among the most read. The balanced, measured coverage assumes a baseline level of interest in the civic life of our community.

But what, if not this, should a newspaper say it’s going to do well?

As I write, I can hear Tom the professor telling his students: It doesn’t matter if something is important unless you make it interesting as well.

Appealing to civic duty only goes so far.

I know. I get it. In my head, but not in my heart.

Come Tuesday evening, the newsroom will be jumping with journalists reviewing the results and getting reaction. Wednesday morning, editors will assess the results of the campaigns, and of the campaign coverage.

I know it’s good – important and essential – regardless of how many people use the information to help inform their votes.