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The Union becomes ‘election central’

Richard Somerville, Editor
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

e’re in the heart of the primary election campaigning these days, and at The Union we’re pulling out all the stops to make sure our readers get the maximum amount of information about candidates and issues to make an informed decision on March 2.

The Union is in the process of turning out personal profiles of each candidate, but also is providing an extensive look at how each of them view important community issues.

Our Editorial Board has met with each candidate for an hour, and we taped their answers. The tapes were transcribed (an arduous process, tackled by news assistant Judie Koeckritz), and we’re publishing the texts ” in the candidates’ own words.



The exciting thing is that although we have to edit the Q&A to fit on our op-ed page, the entire session can be found online at The Union’s Web site, http://www.TheUnion.com. People from all over the county have told us how invaluable a service this is.

And here’s the best part: This week we launched Election Central on TheUnion.com. Clicking on the Election Central logo at the top of our home page brings readers to a site that contains every profile, every Q&A, and every local election story. In addition to pros and cons about the various propositions on the ballots, there are links to the latest Associated Press national campaign stories, updated every 30 minutes. Scroll down, and you’ll find links to the Nevada County election office to learn about important deadlines, where to vote, and how to contact candidates.




It’s an impressive effort by our staff, particularly Webmaster Dayna Amboy. She’s the one who also created our interactive Nevada County Meltdown Challenge Web center, which has proved to be hugely popular.

All of this reflects our decision in 2004 to focus even more effort on TheUnion.com, not only because its readership is growing by leaps and bounds (the record for unique visitors reached a new high in January, including 10,000 in one day). We also recognize that the digital medium is where the news business will be shifting to over the next 10 to 20 years.

Like every other news organization in the country, The Union has been engaged in a debate about how to earn a profit as this shift takes place. Gathering news is a costly business ” our No. 1 expense by far is people, including salaries, benefits, and workers’ compensation.

Other newspapers have taken the leap and shifted their Web sites to pay only, following the example of the Wall Street Journal. Others are emulating the New York Times, which leaves some basic content available for free but requires subscriptions to access some features. Slowly but surely, most sites are at least requiring visitor registration, not only to track access, but to provide demographic data (but not names) to advertisers.

The Union at one time or another has considered all of these options, and we’re hoping to make a final decision by later this spring. Meanwhile, our newsroom moves forward by continuing to post more breaking news online and by hiring a Web editor to increase the creativity, usefulness and interactivity of TheUnion.com.

The candidate Q&As and the increasing flood of election letters has led to a crunch on the Opinion page. It’s not unusual for us to have a backlog of Other Voices guest columns and letters during normal times, but come the campaign season, it is really a logjam. In checking, I find 15 Other Voices columns waiting for a slot, a half-dozen or more waiting to be considered, and 75 letters of various types in the editing queue.

Most people are patient in waiting for their turn, knowing it’s that season of the year. But others get impatient and sometimes angry, feeling they should be moved to the front of the line. So I thought it would be a good time to reiterate the decision process regarding Other Voices guest columns.

First, the submitted columns ” like letters ” should not engage in personal attacks or be potentially libelous. The second hurdle is the editor ” me. Selection of Other Voices is highly subjective. I am looking for a mix of issues examined from a variety of perspectives. The columns should be well-written and well-organized, with an easily understood point of view and argument.

If I have recently run an anti-war column or one with a timber industry point of view, I may not accept another right away, no matter how well it is written. Although our syndicated columnists are published regularly, I try to shuffle local authors around to make sure everyone gets a shot. (And I prefer local writers to those from outside the community, unless the topic has strong local interest.)

While I accommodate guest columns from public officials, they usually have to wait in line like everybody else unless they are addressing a crucial issue from a unique point of view. That’s because such columns can be dull (possibly written by a staff person, not the politician) and self-serving.

Bottom line, I ask: Will this column be relevant and interesting to our readers? Will it tell them something they didn’t know or give them an insight they hadn’t considered? For that reason, I am not likely to use an Other Voices column that wants to use 750 words to bash The Union. What difference does that make to a reader in their daily life? And besides, that’s what letters to the editor are for.

And even if an Other Voices column is selected for consideration, that doesn’t always guarantee it will reach print. Sometimes while waiting in line columns become outdated, or they are bumped by better columns. Still, we try to use those columns we accept, which is about one in five submissions. The rest get a polite “no, thank-you” letter.

Our reward for all this hard work and pickiness is an Opinion page that is dynamic, relevant, well-read, and talked about” the dream of every editor.

Richard Somerville is the editor of The Union. His column appears every Saturday.


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