Ask the Editor

How does The Tribune cover politics?

sduerr@thetribunenews.comMay 8, 2014 

Sandra Duerr

With the June 3 primary election just weeks away, races are clearly heating up. Understandably, we’re fielding questions about our political coverage. Consider these:

Q: Who makes decisions on endorsements? — Several individuals

A: Endorsements are made by The Tribune Editorial Board, which consists of Publisher Bruce Ray, Opinion Editor Stephanie Finucane and me. During election season, we interview candidates and research issues on key local races and initiatives. In making endorsements, we understand that no candidate is perfect, and that in many cases voters are fortunate to have a choice among several good candidates. So we often emphasize other candidates’ strengths as well as indicating which candidate we believe, on balance, would serve voters best. We limit our endorsement efforts to local races because we have the ability to provide readers with insight and information not readily available from any other news media.

Q: Previously with Caren Ray and on April 27 with Bruce Gibson, your editorial board endorsed these candidates for their respective offices (county supervisor races District 4 and District 2, respectively). I do not know how important that endorsement is to informed voters, but I suspect it is very important to uninformed voters. Those voters who will not take the time and effort to research the candidates will probably take the easy way out and vote for your endorsed candidate. My sense is that you acted too soon. With almost a month to go to the elections, the candidates are still fleshing out their positions. For some voters, curiosity as well as the selection process will now cease for these two offices. … I would ask that in the future you refrain from endorsing too soon in the process. — Timothy Myer, Nipomo

A: Years ago, newspapers nationwide — including The Tribune — waited until close to Election Day to offer their views of candidates and make endorsements. But that has changed as voters embraced absentee ballots. As we reported in a Sunday article, nearly 60 percent of the 149,700 registered voters in San Luis Obispo County requested mail-in ballots for the June 3 primary. Those were mailed Monday by the county Clerk-Recorder’s Office. Given this early voting trend, both the news staff and The Tribune Editorial Board published most of their local coverage — and endorsements — before the ballots were mailed.

We recognize that readers may not have time to research every candidate. That’s why our news staff wrote stories on each race explaining the top issues and where the various candidates stand; published candidates’ responses to specific questions pertinent to each race in an easy-to-read grid format; and covered several debates on the hottest races where candidates shared their stances. As always with our news coverage, our intent is to give readers enough information to make their own decisions.

Q: I challenge The Tribune to come clean and disclose its true political leanings. The Tribune loses credibility when editorial staff continually steer the stories and public conversation to suit their own personal agendas. As faithful subscribers, we all deserve to know which way the winds of tolerance blow for the staff. My proposal: Let the Tribune conduct an in-house survey to see the actual percentages of what your true beliefs are. … Are the majority of you liberal, conservative, progressive, socialist, libertarian or anarchist? — Tom Bolton, Atascadero

A: Like other media, The Tribune is usually accused of being liberal. But we’ve also been chastised as being conservative. It depends on the issue at stake. I don’t know the political leanings of staff members, nor do I need to ask unless we detect bias.

Our journalists are trained to put personal leanings aside and approach their stories from an independent point of view; their sole intent is to understand issues thoroughly so that they know the various perspectives and can summarize them and put them into context for readers. If a reporter has a potential conflict of interest — say, for example, his spouse is involved in an issue — that staffer doesn’t cover that issue. It’s one of the ethical principles that guide us.

Our newsroom also has a system of checks and balances: After a reporter turns in her story, it is read by at least one assigning editor (more if it runs on the front page) and then at least two copy editors — each asking the questions: Are we giving readers accurate information? Is the information in the proper context? Is the story written in a way that’s clear and easy to understand? Our copy editors then strive to write main and secondary headlines that accurately capture the story’s essence.

Do you have a question about the newspaper, our website or our coverage? If so, please write me c/o The Tribune, P.O. Box 112, San Luis Obispo, CA 93406-0112, or email me at sduerr@thetribunenews.com. Follow me on Twitter @SandraDuerr.

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