Elections display the importance of newspapers to their communities.
It all starts months ahead of election day. Newspaper reporters wrote stories about candidates for each political party’s primary. Many papers published content about the contested primary battles, whether the race was for township trustee, sheriff, or state representative.
The county clerk, by law, published the list of polling places in a local newspaper to help voters locate their precinct’s voting location.
Candidates who wanted to get their message in front of the most likely to vote, placed ads in the local newspaper.
Anyone who had an interest in the primary knew they could get the final results in the edition following May’s primary vote. Depending upon the expertise of the staff, readers might have also got an early preview of key races that would be decided in November.
As campaigning geared up for the fall vote, Hoosiers could read the opinions of neighbors on certain candidates or campaign issues on the editorial pages of their newspaper through letters to the editor or op/ed pieces.
Another round of advertising, either placed by a candidate, his/her campaign committee, or interested third parties filled the pages of local Indiana newspapers.
Reporters identify the relevant issues of interest in their counties and the position taken by candidates on those issues. They also profile the candidates so potential voters can learn more about the background or qualifications of Democrats, Republicans or non-partisan candidates for school board.
Reporters explain the referendum placed on the local ballot by a school district. How the money, if approved, will be used. What decision the school board will be forced to decide if the referendum fails.
Prior to election day, many newspapers prepare a voter’s guide, allowing readers to answer last-minute questions they might have about any of the races to help in making a decision on who to support with their ballot.
Some publishers still follow the tradition of endorsing a particular candidate or candidates on the ballot with an editorial explanation for that choice or choices.
On election day, reporters are visiting polling locations to get a feel for the turnout, mood of the voters, follow any voting issues that pop up. They might be tweeting tidbits throughout the day.
Reporters follow the vote counting process once the polls close. In some counties, they update vote totals as various precinct report to the county courthouse. They may collect and share immediately comments from veteran party leaders on what particular precinct returns may mean for the final results.
On Wednesday or the next edition day for a weekly, the front page was filled with multiple stories reporting the results. Did the incumbents defend their seats? Did vote totals indicate a shift in party strength within the city? Were there any election surprises? The answers will be found in local newspaper reporting.
Subtract local newspapers from the election equation and what would you have? Sure national and state races would get attention from network affiliates within Indiana, but county level races outside of the county where the TV station is located?
Meanwhile, few radio stations provide local news coverage.
You would see a lot of posts on social media, but those posts wouldn’t follow any journalistic principles. How would one separate truth from bias or political spin?
Without newspapers, voters would be less informed or misinformed. Without the background provided by local newspapers, election results might not truly reflect the direction voters want their elected officials to take on education, economic development, infrastructure or taxes.