Lessons learned from this year’s election coverage

By Chuck Kajer

It's been two weeks since the elections were held in the United States, and that has given us some time to evaluate both the election process and how we covered it. Here are some random thoughts:

— NEVER AGAIN will I attempt to interview every candidate for every office in person. In the past we sent questionnaires to all candidates and asked them to fill them out. This year I attempted to contact each candidate by phone and do a short interview. Big mistake—some were difficult to get ahold of, others were impossible, and there wasn't enough time to give every candidate a fair shake. While I believe the profiles of the candidates were better using this method, there were just too many to do justice to them all. We will probably stick with interviews for local contests, (city and school board) but for all others (county, legislature etc.) we will go back to using the tried and true questionnaire.

— My email software was on the verge of overloading with all the letters to the editor that came via email. This was on top of the many that came through regular mail or fax, or that were dropped off in person at our office. We received 243 letters via email in the one month prior to election day. Obviously, we couldn't print them all. The letters came from throughout the country. We learned, through a little research, that our email address had been put on a list of newspapers on a Democratic Party website, which accounted for many of the letters. We limited letters to those from local writers or those addressing local issues. One thing is certain, the letters made for a livelier Opinion Page in the months before the election.

—Make sure we have color photos. As we were preparing our paper to go to press the morning after the election, we discovered that we did not have color file photos of Duane Jirik, Jim Kratochvil and Jim Brown. Fortunately, about five minutes after we discovered this, Jirik walked into our office and we were able to take a new photo of him, and we were also able to get a photo of Kratochvil on short notice. Our apologies to Mr. Brown, who told me last week he will send us a color photo for use in the future.

— Make sure, if you cut and paste copy from a past issue, you get the right names and numbers in the paper. Our front page that morning, aside from the black and white photo of Mr. Brown, looked very good. We were all pleased by it. Then, the next morning, we got a call telling us that we had Bill Luther listed as the opponent for John Kline. In the rush to put numbers with the names, we forgot to change one name. Several other readers called us to remind us about it as well.

— But give a special pat on the back to young Tom Fadden, son of school board member Thomas Fadden. He noticed that the totals in the box for the park referendum added up to more than 5,000 people, more than the total number of people who voted in New Prague. It seems the numbers published were those from the failed levy referendum in 2002, and while we changed the heading on the box, we forgot to change the numbers. His dad mentioned this to me almost a week after publication, and he was the only one to say anything.

Throughout the election season, we tried to be fair in our dealings with all candidates. We appreciate those who wrote letters, and hope you'll let us know how you feel about local issues throughout the year, not just during election season.

With that said, there is another election approaching on December 14. This school bond election will have three questions, which, if passed, will allow the district to sell more than $60 million in bonds to build three new elementary schools as well as an addition to the high school and a swimming pool at the high school.

Once again, The Times encourages its readers to submit letters to the editor. We will publish them up to the December 2 edition of The Times. It is this newspaper's policy not to publish letters regarding an election in the edition immediately before that election.

Letters should be 250 words or less and include the writer's name, address and daytime phone number for verification purposes. Letters must be from one or two people, we will not list more than two names following a letter. They must be in our office by 5 p.m. on Monday, the week of publication, and can be sent via email, regular mail or fax, or they can be dropped off at our office.

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