Carroll: Let the letter campaigns begin
September 17, 2013
It's not even October yet, but it's clear that the letter-writing campaign has begun for the proposed Mid Valley Recreation Center at Crown Mountain Park.
This is no different from most campaigns, whether they're for candidates or issues. Once that first salvo is fired, the letters start pouring in. And they don't stop until that first Tuesday in November, when the votes are tallied.
Like every election season, tensions run high and those immersed in the campaigns become sensitive to every printed word.
The biggest challenge we face as a newspaper during election season is sorting out the truth from fiction.
Some letterwriters are very matter-of-fact in their delivery. But others will put their agenda above everything else by twisting numbers, massaging facts and spinning the future — whatever it takes to convince readers that their position is correct.
It happened in the months and weeks leading up to the proposed hydroelectric plant on the city of Aspen ballot in May, and it happens with every race for a political seat. And it's happening with the rec-center vote, which will be done through mail-in ballots starting Oct. 15 and ending Nov. 5.
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We try to print every campaign-related letter we receive — so long as it's not the same person or an organization pushing others to write letters. The orchestrated letter-writing campaigns, which can border on the disingenuous, usually are easy to sniff out. A good example is an onslaught of letters from fourth-graders — all sent during the same week — asking for a school-bond question to be passed.
But our open-ended method of printing most election-related letters is not flawless despite our best efforts to scrutinize what's being submitted for publication. Unfortunately, some with misinformation make it past the goalie and into print. Many times the misinformation is more an issue of semantics; other times it's more blatant. But whenever a half-cooked letter runs in election season, a domino effect ensues, with other writers pointing out the mistakes. Then the back-and-forth begins.
Still, that's the nature of the beast in election season. Rarely is one side satisfied with another side's position — whether it's steeped in fact or fiction.
There are the other challenges in dealing with all of these election letters, as well. My biggest? Headline writing. After a certain point, there are only so many different headlines you can put on a campaign letter. Sure, there are the "Vote "yes" on rec center" and the "Vote "no" on rec center" headlines. We'll surely get a "win-win" headline on some of these letters and probably a "no-win situation," too. Then we'll dig a little deeper into the Dictionary of Election Letter Headline Cliches — "Rec center a healthy fit for community," "Rec center bad for midvalley's fiscal health," "Rec center will stretch our pocketbooks" or "Rec center will strengthen our children." And on and on and on.
But these challenges are part of our job and more than worth it when it comes to elections. The Arizona Newspapers Association recently tweeted a comment from Alan Cruikshank, publisher of the Fountain Hills Times: "A newspaper without an editorial page is like a person without a heart."
That is certainly the case here. If you have a stake in the campaign for the proposed Mid Valley Recreation Center, or any campaign issue for that matter, it's best to get your opinion out. Just make sure your facts are straight, and better yet, feel free to suggest your own headline.
Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.