I picked up The Clarion-Ledger's Sunday print edition this morning at McDade's because I was curious to see what they were doing today on the elections. I honestly couldn't believe what was in it, or not in it, I should say.
Most of the front-page feature was a simple graphic and blurbs about seven swing states. The copy about each is not very helpful or even coherent. (The very first sentence is: Florida has moved in former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney's way since the GOP's convention this summer." In his "way"? What does that mean?) Next to the blurbs is polling info on each, which is already out of date by this morning.
And that, friends, is their entire election coverage. Under the graphic on the front page is a puffy story about a Mississippi man working as Romney's assistant, and an opinion piece by a state reporter calling for the Mississippi Legislature to change our state song.
There are no write-ups whatsoever about the presidential candidates' policies and what they mean for Mississippi; no analysis; no factchecks. There are no endorsements. The editorial is about a story they featured last month.
The only exception is a short analysis piece by a Gannett reporter in D.C. about student-loan debt -- which inexplicably leads the Metro+State page (it should have been on page 1 as it's the only election substance in the section).
That's it. If Mississippians read the Sunday edition of the state's allegedly largest newspaper two days before the presidential election, you get nothing of substance about how the election affects our state (which is really something, considering that one of the candidates wants to send education, health care, even disaster-relief costs back to the states in unprecedented ways). And we're a poor state. I only have to assume that the latest editor and publisher Gannett brought in from elsewhere know that. You can't tell from looking at this issue.
Elections are never an impressive time for that newspaper. They almost inevitably endorse the worst candidates -- who turn into real stinkers in office (can we say George W. Bush's re-election and Frank Melton, even though they knew he was lying under oath at the time, but didn't tell readers?).
But at least, in the past, they did something. Back then, they still had a partly local Perspectives section with some sort of analysis every Sunday and a variety of opinion pieces. Today the opinion page is one page at the back of Section A. And I just counted five locally produced stories in the whole section (one business; one a consumer column; two opinion columns, one the puffy feature about Romney's guy) and 16 wire/AP stories. I don't know who did that mess about the seven swing states; you can learn more from five minutes on Twitter.
If you dig inside the big-box retailer flyers in the paper, you will find what is hopefully called the "Mississippi Voter's Guide," an insert produced with the League of Women Voters. But there is very little there. Instead of endorsing a presidential candidate, the Ledger ran four endorsements from other papers around the country for each man. And that is it on the presidential candidates: There is no discussion and reporting about how their plans will affect Mississippi. You then get some short Q&As with congressional candidates--the kind we've been doing for weeks, except these seem to be most questionnaires given to the candidates rather than real interviews (thus, no follow-up or challenge questions). And there's a national Pro Publica story about Romney and Obama on the Supreme Court and a listing of the races the Ledger did endorse in (all the congressional incumbents; that was hard). There's a full-page photo of Romney and Obama on the front of it and a full-page house ad for cartoonist Marshall Ramsey on the back -- so the lack of substantive content clearly wasn't a space issue. There is no indication of any sort of real analysis; this is the most phoned-in election guide I've ever seen.
What is going on here? How can the Ledger insult Mississippians with so little local substance?
The JFP runs AP stories now online only, in addition to original daily stories Monday through Friday -- and our print edition is all locally produced, other than an occasional story picked up from elsewhere. But it is very rare.
Of late, we haven't poked The Clarion-Ledger as much as we used to: the whole don't-kick-a-sick-horse-when-it's-down thing. But this issue strikes me as journalistic malpractice. This is an important election with very real consequences for Mississippi. If you had told me a year ago that The Clarion-Ledger could get worse, especially on election coverage, I'm not sure I would have believed it. But this is unbelievable for the Sunday before Election Day.
For a different approach, read the JFP's cover story this week: The Candidates' Plans: How Will They Affect Mississippi?