Issues matterThere was a time when radio reporters had inked-stained hands, like their brethren in print. That was because we had to change the ink ribbon on the old United Press International or Associated Press wire machines. Even Lava soap couldn’t scrub it off.
By: By Mike Simonson/Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
There was a time when radio reporters had inked-stained hands, like their brethren in print. That was because we had to change the ink ribbon on the old United Press International or Associated Press wire machines. Even Lava soap couldn’t scrub it off.
Technology has changed so much since then. Instead of staking out pay phones to call in a report, there are now Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and other gadgets that can do most everything except pick up the tab at Frankie’s Tavern.
But one thing has not changed and should not change: The basics of journalism and a free news media are the same. We still need to get the who, what, where, when, why, and how. We still need to dog a story until people get tired of our barking. We still need to be independent of commercial or political influences.
It’s that last point that makes us different from Pravda or any other state-run media. We don’t clear our stories with government officials. We don’t submit our questions in advance of an interview. And we won’t have politicians tell us the ground rules to interviews or debates.
That’s why, as of now, we have the most one-sided debates we’ve ever scheduled set for the Ashland area.
Throughout our discussions to set up these debates, some campaigns never used the words “public service.” I understand campaign strategy. I understand this weird game of checkers or maybe hide-go-seek that we call political elections. But, at some point, campaign staffers and ultimately the candidates have to consider what is best for the people they are hoping to serve: The issues.
Issues don’t include who was caught on what video, the clothes candidates wear, Joe the Plumber, Mike the Mechanic (who was big in the late ‘80s) or Sue the Lawyer. I don’t mean to be a buzz kill here but the issues facing Wisconsin and just about every other state in the union include paying for local schools, laying off teachers, firefighters, cops, and other essential people, aid to local governments and that really big hairy ape of a $2.5 billion state deficit.
So, journalists ask questions. It doesn’t matter if the recorder is digital, laser, high beams or low beams, that task hasn’t changed for reporters.
If we in the Fourth Estate are made to play by the rules set by the people running for office, then we become irrelevant. But my colleagues and I aren’t going to tuck our tails between our legs and give up looking for answers that voters need before they cast their ballots.
On Oct. 20, we have invited the candidates for the 25th Senate District and the 74th Assembly District to face a mean, nasty, disheveled panel of scowling reporters at the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center near Ashland. That’s scary – not the Center but the nasal-wheezing troll-like reporters. Even though Wisconsin Public Radio, with our partners in print, has sponsored debates every two years since 1990, at first only the Democratic candidates Janet Bewley and Bob Jauch had agreed to attend this year. Now, after a pleasant rebuke by the Ashland Daily Press on Wednesday to pay attention to the folks in the northern part of the expansive 25th Senate District, Republican Dane Deutsch has agreed to take part.
Still, Republican candidate Shirl LaBarre has chosen to skip the head-to-head discussion of issues. We have offered alternative dates. Nope. All booked up. Come on, reconsider. I can’t vouch for my colleagues, but I won’t physically bite you.
We are having a good old-fashioned “debate night” in Superior. Two debates between the candidates for the 7th Congressional District, a race which has the national spotlight for retiring Dave Obey’s spot, and the 73rd Assembly District. Republican, Democratic and an Independent candidate will all be there for that live radio broadcast from UW-Superior on Oct. 27.
Campaign ads, Twitter, Facebook, e-mail news releases and Firestone Tire Zeppelins won’t replace an honest answering of questions by candidates meeting face to face in front of the firing squad that is apparently made up of journalists from the Superior Telegram, Ashland Daily Press and Wisconsin Public Radio.
Technology can’t change the basics of truth, issues, and thinking on your feet. Legislators have to do deal with these things while making law, so it is important and reasonable that candidates must run through that gauntlet for the public good.
Our debate for the 74th Assembly will continue as planned, even if it just one political party represented.
All of us sincerely hope that Ms. LaBarre will find a way to be free up her dance card that night. Northern Wisconsin is better served when candidates don’t dismiss a free press and choose to appear only before friendly groups in places that won’t ask hard questions.