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Local elections about letting readers make own choices

American author and pool player extraordinaire Robert Byrne once quipped that, "Democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least."

Maybe Mr. Byrne went a little overboard with his cynicism, but some level of his point remains valid - politics can get ugly and leave all sides the worse for it.

Small-town, local races can be the nastiest of all, often polarizing communities to the extent that it becomes a "him or me" equation, when it shouldn't.

Throw the newspaper in the mix and you have what could be considered a recipe for disaster. But, in fact, if handled properly this mixture becomes the great system we call a democracy, regardless of what Byrne thinks.

Several local races in the November election will likely be hard-fought and highly contested. It is important readers know how they can get involved and what role the newspaper plays.

Someone told me recently that, as journalists and a community newspaper, we should just stay out of politics. I couldn't disagree more. Politics and commenting on the government was precisely why many newspapers were created.

We must be involved in politics, although continuously strive for absolute objectivity, to provide our readers, our community and the voters with the information they need and want.

We go to great lengths to maintain complete autonomy from all political races, yet still provide people with precious knowledge. In my more than three years here at The Tribune, I can honestly say that we have done our absolute best to stay impartial in our political coverage. I have no family ties or allegiances to any politician or candidate and neither does

editor and publisher Kevin Cooper.

Our goal in this upcoming election is the same as it has always been: provide people with balanced and equal coverage of all parties and all candidates, regardless of the race.

To most people, this concept of objectivity is clear, but often becomes confusing when it comes to the opinion page. Some readers get confused about the opinions presented and what we will or will not publish.

We encourage community members to voice their opinions about politicians running for an office by writing letters to the editor, although there are some guidelines. As always, anyone submitting a letter must include their name, address and phone number, though only the name is published.

What can and cannot be said is based on our ethical standards and legal guidelines. Letter authors can say that, "Joe Candidate is a bad person," because that is a statement of opinion about a public figure. Authors cannot make specific allegations such as, "Joe Candidate is a bad person because he stole money from me." That becomes a criminal allegation of an alleged fact.

We urge anyone writing letters to focus on what their own opinions are and why. It is advisable to avoid getting into factual claims that can be disputed

Candidates cannot write letters about themselves, though we may provide a specific forum for that. We will stop publishing any political letters before the election.

Right before the election, we will meet with candidates to discuss their races. These interviews will determine who we endorse, if anyone. It is never personal and is done right before the election so as to eliminate any perception that the news coverage has been skewed and to provide the most up-to-date positions of the candidates.

The key to all this is you - the reader. Reader, and more important voter, input is vital to making this work. And that is what democracy is all about.

Michael Caldwell is the managing editor at The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com.