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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Vote, Voting and the Drive to Stay Informed

Today is election day, at least here in Wisconsin. As is my usual, I've been urging those around me to vote. And, as is my usual, I've been getting a lot of the same responses, "I don't like voting when I don't know anything about the candidates." A good sentiment, certainly, but with the wrong solution. Not voting isn't the answer here, folks, becoming informed is the answer. I know, I know, "If only it were that simple..."

Usually, when faced with a national election there is a plethora of information about any given candidate. Sure, you have to separate the wheat from the chaff, the fact from the fiction, but the internet has made that easier than ever. With local elections the story's a bit different. Often there just isn't any easily accessible information, so when you find a few precious nuggets, you often have to take them for what they are irregardless of their bias.

In preparation for the up-coming elections, The Janesville Gazette put out a Voters' Guide of sorts for the local area. For a lot of people this is the only source of news they may get concerning the elections. Even for myself, it was the bulk of it. Now, this is problematic for an obvious reason. The Janesville Gazette is run and written by human beings, which means truth is not always what you get. Sometimes you get bias, and when it comes to being informed in time for electing your representative within any government arena, bias is a BIG problem.

While I couldn't find a link for the Voters' Guide (which, unfortunately, doesn't surprise me in the least), I can tell you about the two biggest bits of bias I noticed. The first was in regards to the challengers for the seat of Rock County Judge. It's a language issue there. It's obvious that Folts is their man (and I admit I'm leaning that way too, but that's hardly the point), because when Folts says something that's not quite accurate they just tell the other side of it; when Welker says something equally inaccurate, they make sure to get in a "The charge is untrue..."

Hmm. Bias anyone?

Again, with the matter of Andreah Briarmoon, they make it blatantly obvious they dislike her and don't want her to get elected onto the City Council. Frankly, I agree with them. She's an alarmist who thinks our city is run as some sort of totalitarian government. She consistently equates our city police with militant enforcers of the will of the city administrator. This is, of course, ridiculous, imo, but I expect my news source to be able to report this factually without the dripping scorn, so that each individual resident can make their own decisions about Andreah Briarmoon and her flights of fancy.

(Remember, I am NOT a journalist, nor do I pretend to be one, but we'll go more into that, well, right now.)

The real reason this gets me, I guess, is that in the same paper there was this opinion piece by Molly Ivins.

Here's some high-lights:

But while Wall Street doesn't care, nor do many of the people who own and run newspapers, newspapers do, in fact, matter beyond producing profit -- they have a critical role in democracy. It's called a well-informed citizenry.
--emphasis added

Hmm. Well-informed citizenry, huh? I agree that's important, but how exactly are papers making that happen when they can't keep their own bias out of their Voters' Guides?

Then there's this:

Television, radio and newspapers are all cutting staff, while the bloggers of the Internet either do not have the size or the interest to go out and gather news. Bloggers are not news-gatherers, but opinion-mongers. I have long argued that no one should be allowed to write opinion without spending years as a reporter -- nothing like interviewing all four eyewitnesses to an automobile accident and then trying to write an accurate account of what happened.
--emphasis added

Okay, breaking this down...

First, I have to take offense at the whole "bloggers are not news-gathers" thing. Some bloggers aren't. I, for one, am not a news-gatherer, nor a reporter, journalist or any other stripe of that lot. Nor do I claim to be! However, my friend and fellow blogger, Michael Brooks of Historymike's Musings is a journalist who goes out gathering news, taking pictures, and then posting it on his blog (as well as in actual newspapers). On behalf of Mike (and his fellow news-gathering bloggers), I am offended and disgusted with her ignorance (or assumed ignorance) of the facts. Tsk, tsk. A reporter (dripping scorn fully intentional) should know better.

She doesn't stop there, though. No, she has to push it a little bit further. "...no one should be allowed to write opinion without spending years as a reporter..."

Excuse me!?! First, it's obvious that spending years as a reporter hasn't given her any advantage in actually finding the facts. That's consistently obvious in the many opinion pieces of hers I've read. Second, since when was the freedom of the press limited to reporters!?!

Molly Ivins says, "We are in trouble." She concludes this because newspapers no longer have a strangle-hold on the news. She thinks this is a bad thing. If I could, I'd be laughing in her face about now. Apparently, Ivins thinks having access to a lot of people's opinions is bad for democracy. Apparently, Ivins thinks having access to reporters who aren't neck deep in newspaper politics (the kind within the organization itself) is bad for democracy. I, for one, don't give a damn what Molly Ivins thinks and am offended as hell that she'd dare suggest that my right to express my opinion should be limited to my ability/interest in being a member in her elitist club!

So, in conclusion, I must say, "Go out and vote!" It is, imo, the responsibility of every American citizen to be an informed voter. It isn't easy, but who ever said democracy is easy? Just don't be duped by the many reporters out there that cannot report facts without inserting their bias and be sure that if you choose to get your news from the many dedicated bloggers out there that you don't rely too heavily on any one set of us to make that happen. I have never been more "well-informed" in my life than I have been as a blogger, but I accomplish that by including a wide variety of blogs in my perusing. Unfortunately, I'm still way too reliant on reporters to inform me about local politics. Alas, I'm going to have to find a way to fix that!

Blog on!


At 4/04/2006 2:34 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Well, it's not a purple dot. It too will undoubtably fade as the day passes. ...but, I now have an ink mark on my finger from voting. It wasn't intentional, and yet it seems right that it's there.

At 4/04/2006 3:06 PM, Blogger Lisa Renee said...

That did fit in pretty close to what I was causing havoc probably wrecking a friendship without meaning to over.

However today I am not exactly a fan of most blogs, those that do try to either clearly point out it is opinion or not admit a clear bias are in the minority. Molly has her view of blogging from seeing some of the bigger blogs that I'm not exactly proud of at times either.

I also agree that newspapers should try to present information not opinions. Opinions are for the Op Ed section.


At 4/04/2006 11:21 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

I've seen the bigger blogs and I pretty much stay away from them. I rarely even visit WB any more. However, Ivins is irresponsible to paint all bloggers with the same brush, and she uses such generalities frequently. I guess my point is that people who aren't willing to separate fact from opinion are going to do it whether it's a blog or whether it's a newspaper and that anyone who honestly believes (which I doubt she does) that you find fact and exclusively fact in a newspaper article is fooling themselves.

At 4/05/2006 12:11 PM, Blogger Joey said...

Here's my take: if you don't know the names (in a county election), vote out the incumbnet. Generally, there's no opposition at the county level unless the incumbent really screwed something up. This isn't always the case, and I'm not a "Vote out the Incumbent" guy, but if you're uneducated about the race, in my mind, that's the next best option.

The way I figure it, turnover in government jobs results in less people relying on their government, which leads to more individuality and independence, which is good. But, that's just me.

(By the way, I wasn't real informed on some of my elections yesterday, so I called someone I trusted who I knew would have more of a clue than I am. If you're involved in local politics, whether at the party level or otherwise, get a hold of someone else who's been paying attention. There are always enough people paying attention to keep everyone else informed.)

At 4/05/2006 8:45 PM, Blogger David Schantz said...

The incumbents lost in Saint Joseph, Missouri. Not because the voters didn't know but because the voters had tired of politics as usual. I posted links to a couple of St. Joseph News-Press articles at my site today.

I was in Janesville with my parents back in the 60's visiting family friends.

God Bless America, God Save The Republic

At 4/05/2006 10:04 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...


The only hard and fast rules I follow when voting are:
1) Do it!
2) Be as informed as you can (even if it's not much)
3) Don't vote in uncontested races unless you REALLY support the person

Despite being an active participant in VOID, I won't ALWAYS vote out the incumbent, especially on the local level. For instance, I'm proud of my city. I think they're doing a fairly good job. I don't like all the council members, and there's some definite changes I'd like to see, but nothing too major.

The national level is a lot different, though, because it's difficult to find ANY representative who hasn't screwwed over the people in a major way. At least, major compared to what you or I'd be able to get away with. And that's why I'm a "vote the imcumbent out" sort of person.


You just made it blatantly obvious that I revealed where I live. Tsk, tsk on me. Well, hopefully the loons don't read it.

Melodrama aside, only one of the people I voted for got elected.

At 4/07/2006 8:12 PM, Blogger historymike said...

Gosh, thanks for the plugs, Stephanie.

And journalism, above all else, is a state of mind.

Even if you have a blog that generates 3 hits a day (me, my mom, and my cockatiel) if you are breaking news stories you are a journalist.

Many people in the mainstream media are clueless to emerging media formats like blogs.

They fiddle while the newspapers burn...

At 4/08/2006 1:02 AM, Blogger Stephanie said...

You're very welcome, Mike!

I read that and was sputtering mad (literally, as my husband could tell you) when I thought of how much work you put into your blog and getting your stories. Injustice tends to rankle me.

As for myself, I could do it. I have most of the skills and the tools necessary to be a freelance writer and I even have enough periodical contacts to get me started, I just don't want to. I'd rather tell write a story that has control than deal with the chaos of the real world.

At 12/27/2007 11:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate you providing an alternative news source to the gazette monopoly :). They got corperate welfare for their new building from the city manager.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for our police officers. Unfortunatly, right now they must obey any order, even unethical orders, or get fired. And the citizen board that is supposed to be their appeal option is hand chosen by their boss, the city manager. This is a grave conflict of interset. The officers' integrity is not being protected by our citizen board right now. So they invade people's properties for demolition in the path of redevelopement so that citizens are paid nothing for their buildings and are sent the bulldozer bill ta boot. Thus they can not afford to fight the city in a court of law as they face foreclosure and bancruptsy and homelessness. It is, as you say, very alarming. And our police force is being used against us, for which they are very embarassed, and hope for a repair in our system. We need a citizen nomination committee to choose our citizen watchdog boards.
Thank you again, Mark.
Andreah Briarmoon

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