Ask the Editor

Why limit Viewpoints in The Tribune to incumbents?

sduerr@thetribunenews.comJanuary 30, 2014 

Sandra Duerr

Michael Byrd, a broker and one of the candidates running for 4th District supervisor on the San Luis Obispo County Board in the June primary election, asked recently if we would publish a Viewpoint on a pledge for candidates to run clean, positive and respectful campaigns. We declined, saying that although we do allow Viewpoints from incumbents, we limit other candidates to letter-length submissions.

Byrd replied that he believes that decision favors incumbents.

We suspect that Byrd isn’t the only person seeking office wondering about our policy governing candidates’ Viewpoints and Letters to the Editor.

As noted above, we welcome letters (no more than 200 words) from candidates. We don’t publish Viewpoints from them, largely for practical reasons.

“With seven city council races, numerous school boards and community services districts, the Board of Supervisors, state and congressional races, etc., there can be well in excess of 100 candidates,’’ notes Tribune Opinion Editor Stephanie Finucane. “If each candidate were to submit a Viewpoint, we simply wouldn’t have space on our Voices pages to accommodate them. Granted, not every candidate is likely to do so, but as soon as one does, many more typically follow.”

Moreover, Finucane points out, we offer candidates other venues in The Tribune and on our website, sanluisobispo.com , for getting their views across. We typically publish numerous election stories, cover high-profile forums and often publish stories formatted like grids in which candidates respond to questions on specific issues.

We have long allowed — and encouraged — elected officials to submit Viewpoints as a way to keep the community informed about important issues.

“It’s a venue that allows elected officials to further explain how they voted, their views and their actions,” Finucane says. “It’s also an important tool to hold them accountable. If a supervisor or council member says something in print and then fails to follow through, the Viewpoint is an excellent form of documentation — one the official can’t refute by claiming to have been misquoted or taken out of context.

“We don’t want to shut the door on this valuable form of communication because an elected official is seeking re-election, especially since campaigns can go on for several months,” Finucane adds.

• • •

On an entirely different note, you’ve no doubt noticed the increased emphasis we’ve placed on the drought in recent weeks. On Jan. 17, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency because of the drought. Two days earlier, San Luis Obispo County was one of 27 counties in the state to be declared a natural disaster area by the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of the drought.

With no relief in sight, we’re stepping up coverage of the drought’s impact locally.

Environmental reporter David Sneed wrote an overview on Sunday, followed by stories by Julie Lynem and Bert Etling, respectively, on grape growers’ and Hearst Castle’s response to the continued lack of rain. And on Sunday’s Opinion Page, we urged local government agencies to enact mandatory conservation measures.

Today, Matt Fountain focuses on the county’s most fire-prone areas and firefighting resources available, and Nick Wilson shares how the city of Morro Bay toughened mandatory water conservation measures this week. In upcoming days, we’ll look at the economic impacts of the drought, as well as a comprehensive review of measures being considered by local governments to encourage or mandate water conservation.

As always, if you have specific ideas for coverage of the drought — or other topics — please email me at sduerr@thetribunenews.com or write me c/o The Tribune, P.O. Box 112, San Luis Obispo, CA 93406-0112. Follow me on Twitter @SandraDuerr.

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