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Minnesota newspaper veteran will be the keynote speaker at RJI workshop

Jim PumarloJim Pumarlo gets it. A 27-year veteran of small newspapers in Minnesota, Pumarlo knows that in-depth and well-planned coverage of elections is among journalism’s most important responsibilities.

That’s why Pumarlo wrote “Votes and Quotes: A Guide to Outstanding Election Campaign Coverage” (Marion Street Press, 2007). It’s also why he’ll be the keynote speaker at the Donald W. Reynolds Institute’s Down-home Democracy workshop scheduled for Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2014.

I wish I had read “Votes and Quotes” sooner. It’s a straightforward, how-to guide that encourages reporters, editors and publishers at community newspapers to embrace their role in the local democracy, and it offers sound strategies for how to cover campaigns and elections well. The table of contents leaves out nothing, working the journalist through the beginnings of a campaign season all the way through election night and beyond. His advice on early and comprehensive planning for elections is particularly valuable, and he follows through with excellent suggestions on how to interview candidates, deal with letters to the editor, handle sensitive candidate endorsements and produce helpful voters guides.

Pumarlo and I share both a passion for election reporting and a frustration that more newspapers don’t do it well. Failure to present news about local campaigns in ways that interest and engage citizens can erode a town or city’s sense of community and leave the public feeling it has no say about issues that influence their daily lives.

“It’s a sad commentary that rank-and-file citizens increasingly pay less and less attention to public affairs, whether at their local, state or national levels,” Pumarlo writes. “They’ll complain when decisions have a direct impact. A city council raises utility rates, or the legislature supports an across-the-board increase in income taxes. These actions are bound to gain citizens’ attention. But a growing number of people would be hard-pressed to name city council or school board members, not to mention their members of the U.S. Congress."

It's even more unfortunate, Pumarlo writes, when some publishers and editors "take this as a sign to ‘dumb down’ their coverage of public affairs overall and elections specifically. If newspapers truly want to position themselves as the source of local information, and their editorial pages as a forum for the exchange of ideas, they ought to take seriously their role of informing readers about candidates’ stands on the issues.”

The first 35 folks who register for the Down-home Democracy workshop will get a free copy of Pumarlo’s “Votes and Quotes.” Online registration is happening now. We’ve got a limited number of seats, though, so act quickly to reserve your spot.

Scott Swafford  
University fellow


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