COLUMN: Enterprise readers weigh in on election coverage, and we’re listening

Readers of the Malheur Enterprise want the truth about those running for public office and they expect us to get it.


The country is heading into a very contentious presidential election. The race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is spilling into all politics.

At the Enterprise, we’ll let others get you the information on such races. We will focus our election coverage on key local campaigns that have the most impact on the people of Malheur County.

And we’re going to do that with your advice in hand.

Political coverage can be vexing for a local newspaper. Often, there are too many candidates and too many issues to cover as deeply as needed. And then there is the regular suspicion that reporters and editors are applying their views to the coverage, favoring some candidates over others for purely personal reasons.

Ahead of our work this year, we invited the community to participate in a survey on politics and on the press. We received more than 100 responses. 

My take is this. Our readers are thoughtful and they are engaged. They want tough but fair coverage of candidates. They want to know about issues, not personalities. And they want us to be sure those running for office don’t duck questions – from us or from voters.

Let me share some of the results of what you said.

For most of you, information on key issues and what specific proposals candidates have seem the priority. There is a lot less interest in personal history or who is donating to candidates.

That interest in issues revealed itself deeply when we asked those responding to the survey to give us questions they would ask candidates if they were doing the asking. The questions were direct and clear. Voters are in no mood for wishy-washy answers. They want candidates to speak plainly and honestly.

One interesting pattern in the questions, given the divisions in the country, was the number of people who wanted to know what candidates would do to be bipartisan or work with people not in their own political party. Among those questions:

“What attempts have you made to members of the other parties in your district to understand their issues?”

“Are you willing to cross party lines to make policy that will address the local issues? And have you ever done that?”

Specific issues that came up time and time again included local economic strength, the future of schools, dealing with Covid.

Key concerns emerged about how the elections and balloting will work this year. About one-third of those responding are concerned about getting reliable information on candidates and issues. And nearly one-third are worried about voter fraud.

Almost nine out of 10 respondents said it would be “very” or “somewhat” useful to get information on what gets a voter’s ballot disallowed. We’re delivering on that need this week with a detailed story from reporter Pat Caldwell.

And most of you want regular reminders about the basics – deadlines for voting and balloting. That was a need posted by a 95% of respondents. We hear you and we will deliver.

With mistrust of the media so high across the country, I wanted to know from readers what we could do to gain and keep trust as we cover the elections. 

I was surprised by the depth of people who believe that our fact checking of candidates is an important role for the Enterprise. That we delve into campaign claims was considered “very” or “somewhat” important by 9 out of 10 responding.

While doing so, people want our news team to focus on three elements in their reporting: Clear identification of sources, equal coverage of candidates and a focus on issues.

But the most revealing question for me as I manage our news coverage was what people would tell reporters if THEY were the editor of the Enterprise.

Time after time, respondents said to leave out opinions, provide facts, and dig hard. Some of the answers:

“Honest reporting, unbiased. Show both sides of the issue.”

“Critically examine claims, verify, and investigate.”

“Don’t allow candidates to play the redirect game. Make them answer the questions asked and report when they either refuse or simply avoid the question.”

“Get the questions answered by the politicians and make them answer.”

“Facts, facts, and more facts. Practice journalism like a carpenter: measure once, twice, three times before you cut. Check your sources, and check them again, and again, and the facts, and if it isn’t 100% verifiable, or is opinion, don’t write it.”

“No spin. No slant. No opinions. Just the facts.”

We get it.

Our job is to get the facts, pressing for the truth, and then delivering to the community. Then, it’s up to readers and voters to decide what to do on their ballot.

As much as possible, we’ll heed the guidance you provided. The two most key local races – Malheur County commissioner and Malheur County sheriff – will get particularly careful and in-depth coverage. We won’t spend time on races that are essentially decided. Cliff Bentz, for instance, seems certain to win his race of Congress.

I appreciate those who took the time to voice their views on politics and the media. My intent is to ensure that you find our coverage useful, fair and accurate. As I tell my reporters on a steady basis, earning the trust of the community is our most important assignment.

Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Enterprise. Reach him by email at [email protected].

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