Times in Trail: Walking the unbiased tightrope at election time

The official start to the municipal elections kicked off Tuesday and with it, from a newspaper’s viewpoint, comes an entire host of issues.

The official start to the municipal elections kicked off Tuesday and with it, from a newspaper’s viewpoint, comes an entire host of issues.

From a news-value point of view there is plenty to write about. There are new candidates, a mayor’s race in Trail, issues involving more than one municipality, recreation agreements, sewer lines, boundaries, the list is endless.

But from my chair there is a whole other raft of concerns.

In each municipal election an editor has to put on a referee’s jersey. We must make the tough calls; remain fair and unbiased and refused to be influenced by the crowd.

Granted there are no mass protests outside the Trail Times office or Rob Ford-type candidates muddying our election, or robocalls misdirecting voters from the only voting station in town.

Those issues are easy to handle. But in a small town there are many that fly just under the radar.

Letters to the editor often provide some of the best reading in the paper. It voices thoughts that many people share or enlightens us on another viewpoint.

But come election time, there has to be a line. I can’t allow letters promoting a certain candidate. It’s too easy to send in a letter supporting a candidate who is really your second cousin’s wife. Suddenly it’s self-promotion and, frankly, that’s what advertising is for.

It’s not fair that one candidate spends money advertising their campaign while another has a couple of friends who will write letters to the editor extolling the virtues of this candidate who they just “happen to hear at the forum.”

Candidates shouldn’t be allowed to pen their own letters to the editor spouting off their platform.

They can criticize street construction, the levels of the river or even the weather but writing about what they would do if elected is a no-no.

I’ve made that mistake once already and was called to task for it.

And don’t get a group of people signing a letter. One name or the name of a group will suffice. We don’t want to turn the letters page into a community billboard.

Election time letters should stick to the issues not the candidates.

If you think the recreation agreement needs to be fixed, then say that. But don’t say which candidate can fix it better than the other one.

If letters aren’t an issue then photos are.

Do we take a picture of every candidate kissing a baby?

Frankly if the baby was spitting up, maybe that’s a photo but a self-promoting photo is once again off limits.

That’s a tougher nut to crack however. If one candidate is everywhere from serving food at Kate’s Kitchen to selling beer at the Smokies game to selling poppies before Remembrance Day while their opponent is at work or busy at home or simply not interested in getting out as much, should that dictate, which photos we take?

In those cases I will trust my gut and look at it from a news point of view. If a candidate is rescuing a drowning victim then that photo goes in just like it would if it was anyone else doing some heroic.

Flipping a burger at the market doesn’t often make it as a stand-alone picture for the paper so even less of a reason to run it if it’s a candidate during election time.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned sitting in this chair it’s that you can’t please everyone. I relish the challenge of trying to please as many people as I can.

Except at election time.

That’s when it’s wiser to remember what our duty is at the paper – to provide the community with relevant information about the election and not promote a particular candidate.

Candidates come into the process with a desire to help their community. Determining who is better to do that isn’t the role of a newspaper but it’s a role for the voters.

I believe our duty is to introduce the candidates, allow them the chance to express their opinions on relevant questions and let the chips fall where they may.

I support a lot of things local – from businesses to sports teams to the environment.

But one thing I can’t do is favour someone at election time.

It’s not my job and it’s certainly not in the best interest of balanced reporting.

Once the votes have been tallied then all bets are off. The mayor can be pictured cutting a ribbon, dropping a puck or kissing that baby.

But it’s still a better photo if the baby steals the spotlight.

Guy Bertrand is the managing editor of the Trail Times