Behind the curtain - Shawn Loughlin editorial
Every four years, The Citizen does its best to inform its dear readers ahead of the year’s municipal election. By way of candidate profiles, all-candidates meeting coverage and more, we spend late nights and early mornings so you have everything you need before casting your vote.
There is a lot that makes it onto the page. Candidates make promises, they debate issues, they laud or decry the work of the previous term of council (largely depending on if they were a member of that council or not) and they show the public a little about themselves.
What doesn’t make it onto the page are the little interactions I have with the candidates in one way or another as we all hurtle towards election day. Of course, there’s no place for such things, but I always feel like I learn a lot about the candidates (whether I can vote for them or not) as we do our work ahead of the opening of the voting window.
As a journalist who communicates with people for a living, there are a few things that I have made a priority in my professional life. One of them is attention to detail. So, when I e-mail someone, I make sure I have my facts straight, I double-check the spelling of their name and their title and I very often reread an e-mail before I send it. In the age of Twitter, Facebook, the internet and people reading acceptance speeches off of their phones at awards shows, those kinds of things may no longer be important, but to me, they are. Receiving a professional e-mail that’s properly addressed, free of spelling mistakes and gets to the point in short order is a luxury, maybe, but to me, it shows that someone is serious and has taken their time on the e-mail. In short, it shows me that someone is serious about whatever’s being discussed, whether it be a municipal election, a story or something else.
Let me tell you, the variations of my name that come in every year are enough to send me into an identity crisis spiral. Most of the time it’s my first name that’s misspelled, but I have had candidates go 0-2 and boy, when people get into the weeds on my last name, things can get pretty messy. I get it. In a world that might be on the brink of World War III, spelling someone’s name right might not be the most important thing, but to me it shows a level of professionalism that should be present if you’re serious about something.
The second thing I learn is who can follow direction. You could argue this is something that is vital to being a municipal councillor.
For our candidate profiles, I asked three simple questions, accompanied by a very clear deadline and word count. Of course, I’ll never tell who can make deadline or who can stay on a word count and who thinks they’re too important or impressive for a word count, but I know and those are personality traits that I, as a journalist and voter, find important.
Then there are the in-person interactions. As one of the few people who actually attend all-candidates meetings in person (these meetings, often, are not very well attended) I am able to see how candidates interact with one another and with members of the public. Who’s kind? Who’s aggressive? Who’s conscientious? Who’s dismissive? Who debates with respect?
I see all these things for myself, but they’re very hard to communicate in a written story without sounding as if I’m editorializing (injecting my opinion into the story, rather than simply reporting the facts), but they are those intangibles like a candidate looking you in the eye or a candidate’s handshake that teach you more about someone than any election guide ever will.