How The Union staffer’s decision to run for Clerk-Recorder clouded its own news gathering

Earlier this week, I posted here that Greg Diaz, whom I support for Registrar of Voters/Clerk Recorder,  was the only candidate who voted in all of the 21 past elections in which he was eligible to vote. By contrast, Davis did not vote in six of 26 elections, including 3 of the past 7; and Strickler did not vote in seven of 17, according to the data. It’s a matter of public record.

Voting, of course, is a major issue for this office — and often part of the reporting on political races. As Mary Anne Davis, who works for The Union and is running against Diaz, put it: “Ever since I was a little girl, my parents instilled in me how important it is to get out and vote.”

The Union followed up on this information, but not until I emailed them all the details (including hyperlinks to the data) and posted it on my personal blog. Their article is here.

The central question becomes, Why didn’t The Union take the initiative to request this information until it was prodded along by a blogger (and posted on Facebook no less)?

I guess it’s because it’s hard to report about your co-worker at a community newspaper, even if they’re running for a public office.

The Union article quoted Mary Anne’s “main reason” why she didn’t vote in 2012 and 2013 was, “In a little over two years beginning in 2011, my parents and my husband’s parents all died … In the process, most were very ill and needed care. I spent quite a bit of time caring for my mother in Chico and frankly that was my entire focus. … Unfortunately during that time, the election was not my highest priority.

The Union did not explain why Mary Anne did not vote in three prior years, however (2009, 2006 and 1997). The reporter said the interview occurred via email, though both work in the same big room, in the same small building. There was no sign of any follow-up questions (like “what about the other three years?”) — not normal journalistic protocol.

To be sure, I can appreciate and sympathize with Mary Anne’s explanation about one portion of her voting record. I faced the exact same situation: My parents died in the same week after my wife and I cared for them for years after moving to our community. It was rewarding to be with them in their final years (and weeks and days) but also emotionally draining and traumatic, as our friends, former co-workers and family who love us or have experienced this can attest. But we managed to vote — and I certainly have no ambitions for public office. After all, you can vote by mail, not just at your neighborhood precinct. I won’t pass any more judgment; to each his or her own.

I’d like to add that Greg Diaz — who no doubt has faced his own personal challenges over the years, like all of us — had a perfect voting record in the past 21 elections. That’s impressive.

The Union’s article also has some shortcomings. In chasing down this story, the newspaper was incomplete in publishing Davis’s voting record: She didn’t vote in six of 26 prior elections, the Elections Office data provided to all of us shows. But the newspaper chose to write five of 17 instead — leaving out one missing voting date.

The Union also found it newsworthy to bring up our lifestyle magazine, although it has nothing to do with my personal blog. And it still erred. For the record, my wife is the “owner,” not me. The Union should have checked our business filing with the Clerk-Recorder’s office. It might have been able to meet Greg and his staff as an added bonus.

For me, the principal issue in this instance is whether a newspaper can objectively and aggressively cover an election when one of its staffers decides to run for the post. For me, the answer is “not really.” That’s why newspapers have policies that discourage this. The Union’s explanation is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

2 thoughts on “How The Union staffer’s decision to run for Clerk-Recorder clouded its own news gathering”

  1. Voting is my most important right and responsibility! Only once in my life did I not vote. I moved to CA in October 1966 and at that time you had to register six months before an election. I drove people to the polls on Election Day, however.

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