Paul Rilling: An election minus results
Oct 04, 2012 | 2290 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
How do you cover an election without giving the results? The Star managed the trick in its story about the election on the constitutional amendment proposing to transfer money from the Alabama Trust Fund to the state General Fund. The story, by Patrick McCreless and Tim Lockette, quoted the reactions of area leaders. It did not report the outcome of the election locally.

How many people voted in Calhoun County? How did they divide for and against the amendment? The Star didn’t say. The closest it came to election coverage was, “At most of the polling places, Tuesday didn’t look like an election day” (Sept. 19, Page 1A).

Too much coverage?

In August, The Star published a story about a candidate for mayor of Piedmont who fathered a child with an underage girl. The incident happened in California eight years ago. No legal charges were filed against him, although the incident appeared to be contrary to California law. The candidate was quoted in the article admitting the truth of the story. At the time, this column questioned the fairness of running such a story during the final days of the election.

In September, The Star continued to write about the incident in two stories and added another incident concerning the same person. All the stories were by Eddie Burkhalter, who is news editor of The Piedmont Journal as well as a Star staff writer.

A front-page story Sept. 11 reported that the candidate, who lost the election, had been dismissed from his position as a Piedmont police officer. The story described the California incident, although the Piedmont police spokesman was quoted as saying the dismissal was not related to that incident. The story also described a Facebook message that the man may have sent to a 17-year-old girl. He was quoted as saying he did write the message but claimed it was to another woman and had been sent to the girl and to “numerous people” by the actions of “a friend.”

On Sept. 14, The Star carried a story about a former mayor of Piedmont who supported the candidate in his campaign for mayor. This story also repeated The Star’s report on the California incident.

Asked about The Star’s coverage of this story, Star Editor Bob Davis said in an email that by seeking public office, the person had become a public figure and “therefore open to scrutiny by the news media.” He said The Star learned about the California incident and “… we reported what we knew. This was important news for voters …”

About the continued stories about the incident following the election, Davis wrote, “… we learned the officer was under investigation by the police department. It seems to us that subsequent stories demand adding relevant context of this public figure.”

The Star had a strong case for running the original story on the California incident. The case for repeating the story in two other articles after the election is weaker. The election is over; the story has been told. Repeating it twice again seems almost vindictive. Should The Star have published the story about the Facebook message? Possibly, although this incident was less thoroughly investigated than the California story. This matter could have been discussed without running the salacious details of the message.

Award winner

The Star received important national recognition for its opinion writing in September. The Society for Opinion Journalists named editor Bob Davis as Opinion Writer of the Year for publications of less than 100,000 circulation. The judges considered Davis’ columns and Star editorials. Remarkably, Davis won the same award last year (Sept. 23, 1A).

Covering colleges

Readers of Star sports pages have noticed that Alabama and Auburn football games are no longer covered by Star reporters assigned to those universities. They are now covered by sportswriters from such papers as The Decatur Daily, the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer and The Tuscaloosa News. Star columnist Joe Medley continues to write about the state’s major teams. Asked about the changes, Star editor Bob Davis said by email that, “The Star is working with other newspapers covering Alabama and Auburn in a sort of loose cooperative. We share content in a move that I believe helps each newspaper maximize the coverage each can devote to these teams’ exploits.”

It sounds good, but how does it work? What does The Star contribute to the loose cooperative? Medley’s articles are shared with the papers providing The Star with Alabama and Auburn news.

A different Monday

The Star edition published Monday, Sept. 24, was printed on paper that was whiter and heavier than usual. Coincidence, or a bow to history for the last Monday Star?

Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star.
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