Across the Universe: Why we ID elected officials in opinion pages
This week, I’m going to dip back into the editor’s notebook to share some recent conversations with readers and hopefully shed light on a pair of items.
On May 12, we published a letter to the editor from local resident Gaylan Larson, who’s also a school board member with the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.
Gaylan’s letter, “Market share plummets for hospital business,” opined that he was concerned with the future of Tahoe Forest Hospital District, considering Standard and Poor’s Ratings Services’ recent revision of its financial outlook for the district to “negative” from “stable.”
At the end of the letter, where we publish the writer’s name and town of residence, I also added “Tahoe Truckee Unified School District board member.”
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This created some confusion among readers, according to conversions I had in email and over the phone.
It’s our policy at the Sun that if a letter is written by an elected official, his or her affiliation must be clearly stated. This is especially important come election time, as an endorsement from an elected official is perceived to carry more merit.
But it’s important all year, particularly when opinions are critical of other public agencies or organizations, as Gaylan’s letter was, because we want to be clear with readers where public figures stand on an issue.
It’s also why, at times in previous news stories, we identify elected officials when they comment on issues or utter public comment at board meetings; it’s about transparency.
At times, public figures will make it clear that they are commenting “only as a private citizen.” Still, we always identify him or her as an elected official, because once you take office, you lose the ability to choose between the two.
As I’ve shared before, just like when we write stories about elected and public officials when they do good things, when they get arrested and/or when there’s a perception of wrongdoing by the public, we also ensure we identify them as such when they take sides on issues and opine on controversies.
But many times, confusion occurs when readers presume that because one elected official wrote an opinion, therefore it is shared among the entire five-member board of education, or trustees, or directors, etc.
This is simply not the case. Nowhere in Gaylan’s letter (nor in others of similar nature) does it indicate it’s the opinion of the entire school board. It’s simply one person’s view — and that person is an elected official.
And speaking of confusion. I’ve fielded several emails and calls about the new format for our Best Of contest this year.
The way the contest is set up, someone has to nominate a business or person, and then go through our online registration process in order for that business or person to be added to the list of options to vote.
Once that happens, it can take some time, perhaps an hour or few, before it registers, but it will eventually become one of the businesses for which to vote.
Here’s the key with all this — you only get one chance to nominate or vote for each category, because once you register, your email is not allowed to go again.
I hope this helps clear up the confusion. But, if not, you can always email me, and I’ll be sure to respond as soon as I am able.
And one last reminder — be clear with people by entering their full name and the name of the business. That helps us know exactly who is up for vote. “Joe in Tahoe City” won’t cut it.
Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the and Sierra Sun He may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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