The blogosphere, in our experience, has occasional flashes of great original reporting, but generally it's most valuable for facilitating discussions - debates, more often - that, at their best, are thoughtful, thought-provoking and about important issues that don't get enough attention otherwise.
This week, such a debate about political reporting exploded on two North Country blogs: the Adirondack Almanack, which is now paired with the Adirondack Explorer magazine, and North Country Public Radio's In Box. Almanack Editor John Warren started it on Oct. 18 with a shot across the bow, urging political reporters to "Do your job" and include Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein in their coverage. He noted how little had been reported on the fact that she was arrested while trying to attend, much less join, a debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
NCPR's Brian Mann responded (his blog appears on today's Opinion page as his regular opinion column for this week), Mr. Warren shot back, and dozens of comments have sprouted below each of their posts.
The debate is over whether the news media should offer more coverage of candidates outside the Democratic and Republican parties.
Our answer is yes, the media should cover minor-party candidates thoroughly, and also yes, we do.
Look at our coverage of Green Party candidate Donald Hassig in the race to represent New York's 21st Congressional District. Our political reporter, Chris Morris, has given Mr. Hassig an invitation to weigh in on every story he's done on the race - and that's dozens of them. See for yourself; search for "Hassig" on our website. The name appears in more than 50 articles since January, when he announced his run.
We've done the same with Karen Bisso, the Conservative Party candidate for the 115th Assembly District.
We did the same for Conservative Congress candidate Doug Hoffman in 2009 and 2010, as well as Libertarian Congress hopeful Eric Sundwall in 2009.
We topped off our 2010 Voter Guide special section with a photo of all seven candidates for governor, and in an editorial on that race, we advised that Libertarian Warren Redlich, in addition to Democrat Andrew Cuomo, was a viable choice.
Enterprise reporters cover all the candidates.
Mr. Warren addressed the broad topic of minor-party coverage through a narrow focus on the Green Party's presidential candidate, noting that there were no news articles about Ms. Stein on our website. (Mr. Morris has included her in two blogs, and she has been mentioned in Associated Press stories the Enterprise ran in print but did not post online.)
Again, Enterprise reporters cover all the candidates, but Enterprise reporters don't directly cover the presidential race much. If candidates come to the North Country, we'll cover them thoroughly, but our main duty is local news. For the presidential race, we mostly rely on the AP.
The Enterprise is a proud AP member. We think the AP does fantastic work. But there's always room to nitpick, and perhaps our biggest criticism is that the worldwide news organization rarely covers minor-party candidates. If it did more on Ms. Stein, Libertarian Gary Johnson, Constitution Party hopeful Virgil Goode or Peta Lindsay of the Socialism and Liberation Party, we'd run more on them.
Nevertheless, we put their pictures on the cover of this year's Voter Guide, which will be tucked inside the print edition on Friday. Granted, they appear below Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama, but that opens another angle to this discussion.
Candidates like these four should have a say, just as tiny states like Vermont and Rhode Island have voices in Congress. They might even be able to play a spoiler role in the close Obama-Romney matchup. But none of them has a glimmer of a chance of winning, and not just because few Americans know about them thanks to a lack of media coverage. They represent minority viewpoints. And while Mr. Johnson has sufficient experience as a former state governor, some, like Ms. Stein, are seriously lacking in the resume department.
So, should we cover all candidates equally, or cover them based on their perceived newsworthiness?
Neither, we say. There's a balanced middle way.
Journalists' first job is to inform, and in an election, people have a legitimate desire to know about all the options on their ballot. So we give every candidate a solid amount of basic coverage.
Beyond that, newsworthiness prevails. Candidates get extra coverage based on what they do and the public interest they provoke. President Obama and former Gov. Romney have had to go through so much more than any of the four minor-party hopefuls to get to this point, the notion that they're all equal doesn't hold water.
In Mr. Warren's Oct. 22 blog post, he called Mr. Mann - even as he blasted him - "the Adirondack-North Country region's most active political reporter." With all due respect to our friend and weekly columnist, we wouldn't put Mr. Mann alone on the top of that heap. He is certainly active, in analysis and commentary as well as reporting, but Mr. Morris is up there, too, as are Brian Amaral of the Watertown Daily Times and Maury Thompson of the Glens Falls Post-Star. While all three blog in addition to their newspaper articles, unlike Mr. Mann they don't step into the opinion arena. Their mission is purely to inform you as a voter.
Journalism is essential, which is why its "Fourth Estate" nickname is so enduring. Because of that, and because journalism is also imperfect, media criticism is natural, especially in today's Internet age. Like any decent business, we're always listening to what our customers say about us and making adjustments accordingly.
But we also recognize what we're good at and are willing to stand up for that reality. To sit there and write that North Country newspapers don't cover all the candidates is not true. This one, at least, makes it a priority and takes it very seriously.