Rules of the election road

We are in the long, long election cycle again, as should be pretty obvious from the television spots and other early signs of campaigns. The months ahead are likely to see some pretty tough races, rough and tumble campaigning and probably a few surprises.

Around Minot Daily News, we have to begin planning for elections well ahead of time. On one hand, it is an exciting time for us. There is plenty on which to report, there is the meeting of new people, there is the facilitation of candidates and voters interacting and there is the general excitement that comes with anything new. On the other hand, elections are a lot of work – and it doesn’t supplant our everyday coverage of local and regional news and events; it’s just an additional responsibility. It is also a responsibility we take very seriously. Regular readers know MDN is your source for election news and insight.

Over the past couple of years, we have adopted a few rules of the road and standards that we employ to help guide our coverage plans and also to try to maintain a level playing field for candidates. So, while the paper will actively bring you information and solicit your opinions on issues, we exert a great deal of effort trying to consistently apply our rules.

First, what we will be doing:

— We will cover races in town, in the region and in the state that apply to Minot area voters.

— We will once again publish get-to-know-them stories about candidates.

— Candidates will be presented with policy questionnaires with specific questions (to which readers will be asked to contribute) and these questionnaires will be posted on our website for the duration of the election.

— We will once again host one or more candidate forum nights. We’re looking at a number of formats, depending on the final tally of candidates and with the idea of increasing the amount of time guests have to chat with candidates in small groups.

— As usual, once again, we will offer our best recommendations based on the above and on interviews with candidates by the editorial board.

Secondly, are those things we will not be doing:

— Once again this year, we will not publish personal endorsements of any candidate on the Letters to the Editor page or in op-eds, and we will delete these from our electronic extensions. Every election cycle – most often state and national races – newspapers are bombarded from letter writers from all corners of the state citing for whom the writer is voting and occasionally a sentence or two of why. Many newspapers publish these – and they are a way to fill a Letters page. However, we decided in the past that these make for somewhat less than compelling reading for people who expect an editorial page to be a forum for ideas and not a virtual team roster. Furthermore, MDN tends to receive hundreds, thousands of these from non-readers who submit the same letter to every newspaper in the state. We will simply not use our editorial space for third-party endorsements. If that’s the kind of thing that an individual or candidates values and wants, they can refer to the Advertising Department.

— We will happily publish a letter writer’s thoughtful analysis of issues and candidates’ expressed positions on those topics. We do recognize that there is often a fine line, a gray area between endorsement letters and issue analyses. To be honest, it is sometimes a challenge even for us to differentiate the two. In those cases, the editors review the material and make the best judgment we can.

— Qualified candidates retain access to the Letters to the Editor page as long as they are addressing issues – it is not the place for attacking election rivals. Office holders can continue to address policy issues before them.

— Candidate op-eds are more limited. Most campaign oriented ones even from sitting officials will not be published. On occasion, when possible, we might receive one on a topic, invite rival candidates to pen their own op-eds on the subject, and publish them together.

It’s not entirely comfortable for MDN to limit in any way, contents of the marketplace of ideas that is our Editorial/Letters page. However, it is not our responsibility to permit candidates to take short cuts in elections and we have no interest in hosting a battleground for constituencies with dueling accusations and other low forms of trying to win an election. Minot Daily News readers deserve more sophisticated contests and we are committed to bringing that to you.

Thus, rules of the road.