PUNGO — Here are two notes about aspects of the recent election coverage in The Independent News and our site.
One deals with the way candidates present themselves and my decision to address one example of that shortly before the general election.
The other deals with perceptions — perhaps especially my own — about what readers expect from a community paper making an effort to cover election matters.
I made a decision to run a story questioning some uses of images of candidate Dave Belote, a retired Air Force officer, in uniform. One photograph in particular was at issue in our report. It has been used in his campaign materials in print, video and digital media.
The story points out uses that seem at odds with a defense department directive covering such things. The initial story ran at Princessanneindy.com on Saturday, Oct. 31, three days before the election. A version of the story also appears in the Friday, Nov. 6, print edition.
I won’t rehash details, but, at the risk of overexplaining, I will overexplain why it ran so close to Election Day. I dislike running what may be perceived as a negative story so close to an election. Clearly, this particular story did not change the outcome of a race Republican Bill DeSteph won handily, but the story discusses an issue that might have been addressed earlier had it been on my radar before we did some basic research on the races we covered. It wasn’t.
I assigned the story in mid-October, amid our routine campaign checks. I intended to run it in our print edition on Oct. 23. We did not run the story then because the Air Force did not respond to requests for information in a timely manner. In late October, while the reporter I had assigned to the story was traveling, I contacted the defense press desk at the Pentagon. Then the Air Force grew more attentive.
It was my decision to wait on a response from the military before I approached Belote’s campaign on Friday, Oct. 30. They responded promptly, and took down a use of the image they acknowledged was not in keeping with the rules the following day before our story ran online.
I considered holding the story, but I chose to put the story online because I wanted voters to have more information rather than less information before they held a ballot in one hand and a pen in the other. But I wish The Independent News had run the story earlier. That’s on me.
The Air Force, as of Election Day, was reviewing that and other uses of images. On Election Day, Rose Richeson, an Air Force spokesperson at the Pentagon, sent the following statement via email:
The Air Force takes allegations that candidates are inappropriately using the military uniform or military affiliation as part of their campaigning for civil political office seriously. In each of these cases the facts are critical and rules may vary depending on the status of the individual and the particular circumstances of uniform wear or assertion of affiliation.
The Air Force response to these types of situations will vary with the facts, but often begins with either a verbal request to campaign officials for corrective action or a formal letter expressing Air Force concerns and asking that corrective action be taken promptly.
Richeson did not specify whether anything is or should be happening in regards to Belote. I’ve asked her to clarify that. I’ll follow up.
I’m surprised other outlets did not cover it because this is a military town and the image has been a dominant one since Belote’s campaign began in earnest. But I’m responsible for our decisions here. For better or worse, these were my decision. Reach out if you have concerns. Email is above or click here. My cell is (757) 748-5331.
We had roughly 2,000 page views here at Princessanneindy.com on Tuesday, Nov. 3, and the vast majority were related to the elections. No surprises there.
The stories people clicked most caught my eye. Overwhelmingly, readers sought information on the two Virginia Beach candidates for two open spots on the board of directors for the Virginia Dare Soil and Water Conservation District. The stories, both by reporter Amy Poulter, ultimately had more than 1,000 views combined on Election Day.
That’s a sneeze to Pilotonline.com, but that’s a significant number of views for a little paper such as ours.
The board spots may be offices beneath the radar of some voters.
Indeed, a college student in 1999 won a seat on the board in Chesapeake through a write-in campaign that garnered 11 votes – more than 19,000 votes behind the only candidate on the ballot, according to The Associated Press.
This past Tuesday, those stumping for Bill DeSteph at the Great Neck precinct helped remind voters that they could vote for both candidates, though the ballot and sample ballots clearly said as much. Some people just didn’t know much about it.
This year, outside of the profiles penned by Poulter, the race was barely covered in local media. Candidates Leslie Jones and Daniela Cossu built their own followings, in part, through social media.
It’s easy to be cynical about voting when turnout is low. But many people want information about their communities and those who will serve them, even on an unpaid post, before they make a decision. Our numbers suggest that is true.
They may have been aided by social media shares and the like, but at least they looked before heading to – or perhaps, these days, while in their cars at – polling locations.
They may not have won seats in the General Assembly, but Cossu and Jones aren’t taking on small jobs. These are your neighbors, looking out for our agricultural community and its resources.
It may be self-serving for the editor of a community newspaper to say, but there are no small stories. Thanks for the reminder.