It was one of those ‘do not throw stones’ moments on the front page, above the fold, in the Sunday Wisconsin State Journal.
In large font the newspaper mentioned the Rose Bowl, winter weather, and the Green Bay Packers all under the headline of “The Stealth Campaign”. The paper than added, “Perhaps lost in the drama of recent weeks is Tuesday’s primary.”
It was as if the State Journal had no role to play other than being a child’s toy boat on the sea of current events.
With a statewide primary contest for Wisconsin Supreme Court, a highly charged race for Dane County Executive, and a titanic struggle for control of the mayor’s office in Madison there have been plenty of reasons for in-depth reporting of personalities and issues. Every day there were stories and ideas that could have been covered to inform, and also engage the voters.
However, day after day the State Journal thought more papers would sell if they put coverage of the Wisconsin Badger football team all over the front page, followed by the Packers. Time and again due to overblown sports coverage throughout the paper news concerning the primary, candidates, and the issues was neglected.
The hype that surrounded the Packer playoffs was nothing compared to what was about to be printed once the Super Bowl line-up was confirmed. In the end even full-page color pictures of Packer players in the paper appeared! So one can see why I cringed at the audacity when the State Journal printed, “Perhaps lost in the drama of recent weeks is Tuesday’s primary.”
No, the news was not lost, it just was not covered by the State Journal in the way it should have been.
While the paper did have some coverage of the races, and outlined candidate’s views there was not the complete coverage that one should expect given the nature of the races being waged, or the big name players who are in the arena. Also to be fair about who should carry the blame for lackluster election coverage would be the three Madison television stations that opted for sports coverage as ‘news’ for too many broadcasts.
Newspaper reporters should have been assigned to ferret out more detailed insight into how candidates in the county would deal with transportation issues, or how the court candidates would deal with conflict of interests if elected. More examination of the views the court candidates have about ‘merit selection’ of justices, (which the editorial board of the State Journal endorses) or how much job creation can really be achieved through the county executive’s office, or how candidates might curtail the growing problem with gangs…all might have filled many column inches.
Let us be honest, there was NO shortage of stories to think about, report on, and publish.
Instead State Journal readers were offered too many fluff stories such as how people watched the games, or how people who were not sports fans would spend their time. While we read about the diet of the Badger players, I did not see such an article about the beef intake of Packer quarterback Aaron Rogers. Should sports fans feel cheated?
While sports play a role in society, they should not dominate the front page of any paper as they did this past month in Madison. When both candidates and citizens comment that it is hard to break through the noise of a mere football game in order to talk about things that matter than perhaps the State Journal should have been listening and responding.
The role of a newspaper is educational: to inform the reader of the events of the past (in this case) 24 hours. It is to be the first written account of history. It should shed light on issues in long-form writing that is not possible on radio or television. When newspapers fill their role properly issues are illuminated and the result is a more healthy dialogue among the voters.
Sadly however, when it cames to the races and issues for this spring election the State Journal has failed to live up to the standards we should all expect from a major paper. We can only hope that their sales were good to compensate for the lack of meaningful election coverage.
So I will not then be surprised if after a small voter turnout on Tuesday a headline appears in the Journal stating “Low Voter Turnout For Spring Primary.”
I wonder why.