The Lincoln County News covers events in Lincoln County.
The Lincoln County News does not cover national politics.
The Lincoln County News does not cover presidential races.
The Lincoln County News does not endorse candidates at any level — for alternate member of the Bremen Planning Board or for president of the United States of America.
To the extent The Lincoln County News covers state politics, it primarily does so through interviews with local legislative candidates to inform readers of their background and ideas, without commentary or sensationalism.
Before we go out to conduct these interviews, the news staff meets and develops a list of questions about current events. We then ask every candidate the same questions. If we add a question about a district-specific issue, we ask it of both candidates. We follow these practices to remove bias — even subconscious bias — from these profiles.
Look at the front page of The Lincoln County News most any week and you will see articles about local government, like last week’s lead story about the Newcastle zoning vote; articles about business openings and closings, like the Sept. 17 article about a beauty salon in Damariscotta and the Sept. 24 article about a medical marijuana shop in Dresden; and articles about the local effects of the COVID-19 pandemic — all, again, without commentary or sensationalism.
Yet every week of late, we endure attacks from readers who claim the newspaper has a bias, mostly for or against the president.
These complaints arise from letters to the editor and political advertising. I feel this should be obvious, but none of these messages represent the opinion of the newspaper, of me personally, or of anyone on the news staff.
When it comes to advertising, the news staff often sees it at the same time everyone else does, or perhaps a few hours before. No one in the newsroom approves political advertisements or makes rules about political advertisements, and we certainly have nothing to do with developing the messages in political advertisements.
This leaves letters.
Here are a couple of the sillier accusations of bias with regard to letters.
I have received multiple versions of the following complaint: “Why did you publish X letter and not my letter? This shows you have a Democratic/Republican bias.” (X letter was literally a response to a previous letter by the complainer.)
Last week, we said we were not going to print any political letters this week in order to give ourselves and our readers a break from the vitriol. Over the last week, I received multiple versions of the following complaint: “I know you are not going to print political letters this week, but my letter is not political. How dare you say it is political? This shows you have a Democratic/Republican bias.” (The letters in these cases were explicitly political, attacking various candidates or political figures by name.)
Earlier this year, the newspaper developed new guidelines for letters with the goal to keep dialogue civil and respectful in an intense election cycle.
Amid constant bombardment of negative letters and constant accusations of bias and personal attacks from both sides, these guidelines have sometimes proved insufficient.
I have a few addendums to the guidelines for these four weeks.
If a writer demonstrates no attempt to understand and comply with the existing guidelines, I will ban the writer through the election and will no longer review letters from the writer.
My practice to date, for the most part, has been to contact writers and negotiate with them in an attempt to produce a letter acceptable for publication. No, you can’t call candidate X a moron, but you can say candidate X’s remark about issue Y was incorrect for reason Z. Etc.
The rules we have for letters are rules we learn in kindergarten. For example, don’t call people stupid. The rules are not hard to understand.
If a writer harasses me or my staff or is hostile or rude in communications about letters, I will ban the writer through the election.
People are angry right now. I understand. People feel passionate about the presidential election in particular and the election in general. People have concerns about the pandemic and social unrest and how those things are affecting or might affect them and their loved ones. People are emotional.
None of this gives you an excuse to abuse and harass the staff of your local newspaper because they will not publish your letter, or because they ask you to make changes to your letter.
My practice so far has been, again, to negotiate with these writers, in what I now believe was a misguided attempt to prove their accusations wrong by working with them to submit an acceptable letter, regardless of how nasty and demeaning they were. I will no longer do that.
If the tenor of letters to the editor remains difficult to control, I may ban letters about anything other than issues — no letters about candidates — or ban any political letters other than simple endorsements. Maybe I will stop accepting letters altogether and just publish photos of kittens on this page until after the election.
I continue to believe most of the people of Lincoln County are fundamentally decent, regardless of whether I agree with them on any particular issue. Please, let’s remember this decency and resist the trend toward demonizing one another during this bitter election season.