They were excellent stories, providing fresh insights on the candidates as persons. The articles, by John Fleming about Robert Bentley and by Tim Lockette on Ron Sparks, were sympathetic to the candidates while not dodging negative issues. The stories were well presented, with good photos. Star readers have not seen this kind of staff attention to a statewide race for some years.
Overall, The Star’s coverage of the 2010 election campaigns was good. Give it about 3.5 out of five. The BamaFactCheck.com articles kept coming, exposing false claims and charges. There was more use of campaign-finance filings to trace the routes of political action committee funds. More extensive use of this information would have been even more helpful. The reports provide information about individual donors, some of them substantial givers. Why not share this data with Star readers?
Perhaps the greatest shortcoming of Star coverage was in the area contests for the state Legislature. There were stories on each race, including personal information about the candidates and some of their campaign rhetoric. Sometimes donations were questioned. But there were no serious efforts to get the candidates on record about pressing state issues.
One problem with legislative contests is that voters do not know the records of incumbent representatives and senators. The state news media, including The Star, does not systematically cover legislative votes. It becomes almost impossible for voters to reward or punish incumbents at election time. The races tend to be decided by party, personality or money. It would be a real contribution if The Star would do summaries of important votes of each legislator at the end of each session.
Too much Iron Bowl?
There was one issue The Star did take seriously enough to call area candidates for the Alabama House and Senate. That issue was free Iron Bowl tickets for all state legislators and “other public officials.” The story, by Laura Camper, used up most of two pages, including photos and statements from candidates (Oct. 17, page 1A). Was it really worth this much space and work?
Story needed depth
“Tracing tourism” was a weak story to lead a front page (Oct. 23). The essence of the story, by Jason Bacaj, was that Clay County would like more tourism, and that a new lodge has been built by a man who was literally following a dream.
Presumably the lodge might help tourism. It is part of the Patriot Riding Stables and Retreat. Readers learn nothing about the new spread except that it is there. Will it be like a hotel, a bread-and-breakfast? How many tourists could it accommodate? What services will the Riding Stables offer? How many horses do they have? Clay County Chamber of Commerce officials say that “a lot of people visit” now, but they have no way to track visitors. They’re working on that.
Advice on tutors
The Star probably should have picked a different school for its story about the volunteer program of The Public Education Foundation of Anniston. The story, “Volunteers spend time at schools,” by Camper, focused on a prize volunteer, Brian Whatley, who donates about 20 hours a week at Tenth Street Elementary. Whatley is a major asset, but he is not typical of volunteer tutors.
Nor are the other 19 volunteer tutors at Tenth Street Elementary typical of the foundation’s volunteer program. They are from the Anniston Kiwanis Club. Neither Whatley nor Kiwanians were recruited by the foundation. All school volunteers are registered with the foundation. (Disclosure: I am one of the Kiwanis volunteers.)
The month’s stars
• “Carrying the load,” the price football coaches pay in stress and health problems, by Joe Medley (Oct. 3, 1A).
• An effective three-part series on the impact of unemployment and underemployment on local people, by Aziza Jackson (Oct. 10,11,12).
• George Smith’s column in memoriam of his friend, a fellow columnist in Ohio. Eloquent and poignant, the old master at his best, writing from the heart (Oct. 17, 2A).
• “In search of Calhoun County’s oldest marked grave,” a trip through history and nostalgia, by Fleming, photos by Bill Wilson (Oct. 17, 3D).
Paul Rilling is a retired former editor at The Star.