What about accuracy of polls?

Question: I am not a fan of polls because they can and often do reflect information that is not valid. An example in today’s paper stated that you called 500 people and interviewed 406 of them that said they were registered voters. Since only around 50 percent of all potential voters are registered to vote how did you select 500 people and 80 percent of them said they were registered voters? How many actual people were called that did not answer the phone, refused to be interviewed, or hung up once they found out who was calling?

If these were random calls it is very unlikely that you got 406 registered voters out of 500 calls. If these were selected calls and you knew in advance that these people were registered voters then why did 94 drop out because they said they were not registered to vote? -- Wayne Lythgoe, Colbert

Answer: I've asked Jim Camden, our veteran political reporter, to respond to your question. Camden has worked with poll results for years and regularly helps us formulate questions for political polls that we commission.
Here's Camden's response to the question:
Registration in Washington state is actually much higher than the 50 percent the reader cites.
According to the most recent census figures, there are 3,282,777 registered voters and an estimated 4,555,664 persons 18 or over in Washington state, and not all people 18+ are eligible to vote (felons and non-citizens are included in the census figures, but they can't vote.) But even by just using the raw data for those over 18, Washington has a voter registration rate of at least 72 percent, with more voters being signed up every day. So getting an 80 percent success rate is in the ballpark and not at all unlikely
It's my understanding that the poll we cited Monday used a random-digit system broken down by the exchanges for the different communities and divided evenly across area codes. That means we make calls based on the proportion of the state's population in the different area codes, and the different exchanges. Each pollster has methodology that they believe best handles the statistical problems of non-answers, hangups and refusals.
There are other polls that work from a list of registered voters, or even those that work from a list of voters who have cast ballots in two of the last four, three of the last four or four of the last four elections. Those are polls that are more likely used by campaigns, political consultants and political parties. Because addresses and phone numbers change, however, there are always some persons contacted on those surveys who are not registered voters.
For people who are not fans of polls, there's always something to discount. For people who are using polls, the most important thing is to get someone reputable to do the poll. -- Gary Graham, managing editor

What happened to balance of cartoons?

Question: Until a couple months ago, I defended the S-R as a rare, unbiased source of information; at least in your Opinion page. When someone accused you of a liberal/conservative bias (check one) I would direct them to Section B, where they could almost always find one political cartoon from each side of the aisle.

What happened? That's no longer the case. Now you run two pro-Bush cartoons in nearly every issue. Please say it wasn't the President's visit to Spokane ... The one that raised big advertising bucks to promote the conservative cause.
Coincidentally, that's about the same time you stopped giving equal time to the editorial cartoons. -- Brent Helmick, Spokane

Answer: I would be surprised to find any pro-Bush cartoons on our pages, or pro-Kerry for that matter. In my experience with political cartoonists, they are rarely pro-anything. They are professional lampooners and can better be categorized by what they are against.

That said, I looked back over the past week and looked at the past 15 cartoons to appear on our opinion pages. In my judgment, four were anti-Kerry and two were anti-Bush. One was critical of Republican party policies but not specifically the president. Another cartoon commemorated (over a "thousand points of light" caption) the thousand-death threshold for U.S. service personnel in Iraq; conceiveably, calling attention to the war's toll could be considered anti-Bush, but I didn't include it in that category for my tally.

As for the other seven cartoons out of the sample, there were a variety of targets -- Kobe Bryant, Israel, Dan Rather, assault weapons and terrorists. One poked fun at Bill Clinton for his dietary habits.

The fact is that cartoonists are satirists, motivated more by irreverence than ideology. We subscribe to a good mix and make every effort to present a balanced selection. In short stretches, there will occassionally be a tilt one way or the other, such as the 4-2 edge in Bush's favor over the past week. An accurate measure needs to be taken over time.

Interestingly, it wasn't that long ago that we were hearing about the imbalance in favor of liberal points of view. We were aware at that time that we had few conservative perspectives in our mix and, to correct that, we added a couple of cartoonists to the stable.

We still hear that criticism from the right from time to time. With this message, we're hearing it from the left. Maybe we've struck a balance after all. -- Doug Floyd, editorial page editor

Responsibility to report without bias

Question: The main media states they have a right to report with bias. I say they have a responsibility to report without bias. You can't trust their report if they report with bias. It also means they aren't treating their customers equally so we can say they don't believe in equal rights. ou should advise companies that reporting to you should be without bias. -- Robert L. Goertzen

I know of no professional, mainstream media organization that acknowledges it reports with bias or believes that it should. Professional journalists in print and boardcast do their best to bleed their news of personal biases, striving to be fair, balanced and accurate. More than ever, however, some news consumers equate balance with news that reflects their own political biases and sensibilities. With the proliferation of Internet and cable news outlets that flaunt their biases, such consumers have a place to go to affirm their own views. Thus reinforced, they come back to the mainstream press and charge bias. A Wall Street Journal column published 9-14 covers some of this ground and is worth reading. -- Steve Smith, editor

Why so negative about Iraq?

Question: Why do you constantly pick the most negative headline you can about events in Iraq? Have you ever ran a big bold headline stating: "Power Restored in Baghdad Suburb"?

Iraq is a semi-lawless place and every day someone is probably going to die. Why do you need to make that your headline almost every day? Why don't you pick Oakland, Calif., where if you look at the Oakland Tribune.com you can usually find some particularly gruesome murder or gang shooting. For what Iraq has gone through the level of violence is not really as disturbing as the level of violence in many of our own cities. -- Dennis McManus, Mead

Answer: Contrary to your opinion, we don't intentionally seek to write the most negative headline about events in Iraq. However, we do look for the most important developments in Iraq each day and, unfortunately, the civilian and military casualties often are the dominant story.

I certainly agree that the level of violence in America's cities is alarming, but I don't think we should be comparing violence here with the situation in Iraq. The United States has sent thousands of its men and women into a hostile and tense environment and the military situation there is of extreme importance and interest to our readers. We have hundreds of military personnel from the Washington and Idaho region who are in Iraq and it's our duty to report on the dangers and obstacles they face.

Our editors do look for stories from the wire services (Associated Press, Los Angeles Times/Washington Post and Knight-Ridder) that report on the improvements and progress being made in Iraq, but frankly, those stories aren't showing up very often. We are solely dependent on the wire services for our international coverage, as are most newspapers in this country. -- Gary Graham, managing editor

Why don't you list real estate sales prices any more?

Question: I miss the houses that have been sold in the
Thursday Voice section. I wrote several letters but did not get any replies. I would like to see these published weekly in the real estate section of Sunday's paper. I bet you could get someone to sponsors this for you. You make revenue and we get info. A win win. -- Leonard Riley, Spokane

Answer: We no longer have the staff resources required to collect and hand-enter all of the are home-sale listings. The agencies that collect the data and maintain electronic data bases have declined to share the electronic records with us. As a result, we stopped printing home-sale records some weeks back. We take occasional calls on the subject, but demand for that information seems to be limited. -- Steve Smith, editor

Christians aren't the only ones with values

Question: First I want to thank The Spokesman-Review for the article on the Faith and Values page about “paganism” a few Saturdays back. That’s opening up the page in a positive way to the full range of faiths in the world. But, I’m still troubled by the fact that only Christians are allowed to write opinion pieces for that page (the two ministers), leaving any reasonable reader, by default, to conclude that the editors have decided that only Christian ministers have anything of value to say about values. Values, understood in their most comprehensive sense, are the provenance of every animal on the planet. In fact the only absolute, universal value is the value each of us places on his or her own values. -- George Thomas, Spokane

Answer: I've been giving Mr. Thomas' question and its implications considerable thought. Later this month I'll be one of 10 editors from around the country meeting at the Annenberg School of Communication at USC to discuss how we cover, and how we should cover religion issues. Our goal will be to develop some ideas that break newspapers out of traditional self-imposed limitations in order to produce coverage plans that reflect the religious diversity of our communities.

Our religion and values page really is a relic of the old "religion page" mentality. Traditional pages are Christian-centric and tend to frame values discussions in religious terms. There is no doubt in the minds of editors here that our coverage plan needs to change...not to reduce the Christian perspective, but to include other perspectives, as well. Following my return from USC, we'll be huddling to review our religion coverage and specifically our Saturday package. -- Steve Smith, editor

What's your policy on covering suicides?

Question: For years, I have wondered about the following:

Suicides: In our area, when it is a homicide/suicide, it's reported by all the media. Single suicides are not unless the body is found by/in the river, lake, forest, etc., by a passer-by. If one takes their own life in the privacy of his/her own home, it is not reported. Why is that? A "privacy" act of some kind? Family's insistence? Suicide is a serious matter and should be a serious concern in all communities. What are the stats in our region and why is this such a taboo subject?

Obituaries: Why is the "cause of death" nearly never published? This is just an observation but I am curious about it too. Why am I curious? I have to read/report daily obits in my job duties at work on occasion and simply wonder about the "cause of death," especially in young people. Some report "lost his/her battle with cancer" but hardly ever do they state "motor vehicle accent," "fire," "homicide," "suicide," "still under investigation," "natural causes" (such as old age). Why is that? -- Lyn Adair, Spokane

Answer: On suicides: Most news organizations have similar policies. Suicides that occur outside the public's view are not reported. Those that occur in public, cause public disruption or involve public figures are reported. The overriding reason we don't cover "routine" suicides is consideration for the victim's family and their right to privacy. In addition, many suicide prevention experts argue that suicide stories, particularly those involving children and teens, actually generate more suicides.

A few years ago, I participated in a series of national meetings involving journalists and mental health and suicide prevention specialists. At issue was media coverage of suicides and what policies ought to apply. The arguments were incredibly emotional and heated -- not between the specialists and journalists but between the specialists. As journalists looked on, the health and suicide prevention specialists argued for and against coverage. There was never a consensus, except that most agreed coverage of teen suicide actually does increase copycat suicides and should be carefully considered. I came away from those meetings believing that our existing policies were the best given what we know and given a total lack of consensus among the specialists who should know better.

In daily obituary notices, it is up to the family to list cause of death. Some families do so, others do not. If the death is subject of news coverage -- a newsworthy auto accident, a homicide of some kind -- we report cause of death based on official records. I can't prove this, but my sense is that families have been increasingly reluctant to list cause of death in routine obituaries. It may have something to do with our growing concern for privacy. I know there remains reluctance to list causes which, rightly or wrongly, still carry some stigma. -- Steve Smith, editor

Why so little North Idaho Fair coverage?

Question: I'd like to know why there was such poor coverage of the North Idaho Fair. There was very little in the way of articles and pictures. You'd never know a Fair was going on. -- Margi Domme, Athol, Idaho

Answer: We produced a special tabloid section prior to the fair, as we do every year. It's popular with readers and advertisers and is an essential guide to the event. We also ran a couple of stories during the course of the fair. But coverage was not extensive. It's a great event, but given the competititon for space and time, and in light of other news priorities, we didn't put a high premium on fair coverage. Similarly, you won't see a great deal of live coverage daily out of the Interstate Fair here in Spokane next week. -- Steve Smith, editor

Why give details that expose security weaknesses?

Question: Why does this, or any paper for that matter, go to such great detail to print delicate or sensitive information that the average person doesn't need and at the same time can help subversives?

Probably my best example would be airline hijackings, be it skyjackers or terrorists. Details on how the person or persons bypassed security, what type of weapons were able to get through the security systems, what methods of training preceeded the attack, etc.

It has been shown that hijackers pay considerable attention to news articles for information on what went wrong with previous attempts and how to improve their chances for success on their ill-intended venture or "crusade."

Any newscasting that exposes weakness in the airlines, police, fire, military, etc. only helps the next ill-mannered miscreant to finely tune their "how to" manual for their evil deed and provides no information of "need" to the general reading public. -- Jeff Bock, Clark Fork, Idaho

Answer: No respectable organization will print (or broadcast) information that truly compromises national security. Most of the information you see in print stories is already public, has been made available through other sources or is known by criminals, terrorists and miscreants through their own research and observation. In the contemporary history of terrorism involving this country, there has never been a link established between media coverage and terrorist action (except insofar as terrorists seek the attention they'll receive for carrying out their schemes).

While news organizations, most particularly newspapers, jealously guard their independence, we do cooperate with authorities on certain sorts of security information. But the burden is on government to show that release of information poses a true threat. Too much information to which the public ought to have access is being withheld in the name of national security. That poses a threat to our civil liberties and I find that as scary as any terrorist threat. -- Steve Smith, editor

Why so many political letters to the editor?

Question: Every time there is an election around the corner, 90 percent of the letters to the editor are from writers promoting their candidate, or condemning another. I don't care who my nieghbor endorses and won't read them. Instead of "Letters to the Editor" why not call it "Political Endorsements?" If you must provide free advertising, why not a separate section entitled "Political" and still print the real Letters to the Editor? -- Erwin Benke

Answer: A newspaper's letters to the editor column may be the only forum left for regular citizens to express their political views, including individual choices for public office. Providing space for such letters is one of our most significant responsibilities. The good news for this writer: Notwithstanding the heavy load of election letters, we're still getting most non-election letters into the paper. -- Steve Smith, editor

Why drop Monday cartoons, and where's Priggee now?

Question: I noted that your Monday edition seems to have dropped the editorial page of political cartoons, but for one. With the reduced comment in the Monday edition, I really enjoyed the illustrated editorials.

In a related question, what ever happened to Milt Prigee? The man is a complete master of speaking volumes with one illustration? Politically, he would occcasionally drive me up the proverbial wall? I do miss his work, and would like to see it occasionally. -- Brehon McFarland, Plummer, Idaho

Answer: Because the size of the Monday paper is so small, we decided to shrink the editorial section from two pages to one page. We opted to continue running letters to the editor and cut the cartoons instead of the other way around.

Milt Priggee lives in Oak Harbor, Wash., on Puget Sound. His work can be viewed at his Web site. -- Ken Sands, managing editor of online and new media

Can you waive online fee for distance readers?

Question: As an occasioal online reader of the Review I wonder if anyone has given consideration to waiving the subscription requirement for distance readers. I understand perfectly the reason for such a local requirement, but because of the immediacy nature of delivery, a distance subscription is not feasible for me. Regardless of your answer, the best to the Review. -- Bob Wilson

Answer: Thanks for the note. Much of what we have on SR.com will remain free. Here are some of the free things: Breaking local news; Breaking national and international news; Obituaries; Births; Between 15 and 20 online columns, or "blogs" on everything from Cougar football, to health, to music, movies and books; Multimedia features, photo slideshows, special projects and special sections; Links to local bloggers; Multimedia obituaries; Iraq casualty database; High school sports scores and schedules; The entire contents of Friday's "7" section and a daily events calendar; Comprehensive election coverage in a special online section; All classified advertising.

In order to read the stories that appeared in the printed newspaper, you will need a subscription. That's an unfortunate but necessary business decision on our part. We spend a lot of money gathering that information and can't justify giving it away for free to online-only readers, while our print readers are charged a monthly subscription.

As far as waiving the fee for distance readers, it would be nice from a readership standpoint. But our local advertisers want their ads viewed by local readers, who can patronize their businesses. It's actually a detriment to us to have distance readers, who not only wouldn't pay a subscription, but would lessen the effectiveness of the advertising. If I had a magic wand, I'd make sure we had ads from national companies to place before distance readers, but we don't have any such ads and no real way to place those ads in front of select people anyway.

We hope that you recognize that much of what we have on SR.com remains free, and that what we do charge for has value.

And I appreciate you taking the time to write. -- Ken Sands, managing editor of online and new media

Why use so many acronyms?

Question: I have been a faithful S-R subscriber since 1955 and I notice that more and more the staff writers use acronyms without telling the readers what the letters stand for. I read the article by John Blanchette re: Mike Price this morning. What in tarnation is UTEP? Guess that's why I try to avoid the sports page completely. (When Price went to Alabama, someone should have reminded him that he was not in Spokane.) -- Phyllis Quass, Hayden

Answer: The writer is correct. As a rule, we use far too many acronyms and too frequently fail to provide the key to unlock their secrets.

It may have something to do with the general proliferation of acronyms in our society. As things become more complex, people look for ways to simplify, and reducing titles and phrases to a set of initials is one way to do that. Military acronyms have been particularly bothersome in the past couple of years. The jargon of public education is full of indecipherable initials. And sports suffers, too.

Our style requires reporters to spell something out before resorting to the acronym and then use the acronym only if it's absolutely clear to readers what we're talking about. WSU is a good acronym for our readers. UTEP (the University of Texas at El Paso) is not one our readers might generally recognize. -- Steve Smith, editor

Where are Idaho ads, election sections?

Question: I live in Kellogg and when i first started receiving The Spokesman-Review, I would get some of the Coeur d'Alene coupons in Wednesday's paper (for example, the Papa Murphy's coupon book.) I stopped getting them after about a month. How come?

Also, I noticed the voter's guide to all of the running parties for Washington. Will the S-R do one for Idaho as well, since I'm sure you have many Idaho subscribers? -- Dawn Turcotte, Kellogg

Answer 1: It is up to the advertisers where they distribute their coupons. Of course we would love them to go everywhere - it means more revenue for us! But the advertisers determine where their inserts will go.

We have often found that if the readers call the advertisers and talk to them about not receiving their ads, it may help that advertiser rethink where they will distribute their inserts. -- Bob Myklebust, display advertising

Answer 2: We will be publishing a voter's guide for Idaho voters prior to the November election. We haven't decided yet if it will be a separate section or several pages in the regular paper. -- Steve Smith, editor

Can't you give full descriptions?

Question: A story a few days back concerned a lawsuit a "large" person was intending to file, claiming she was insulted, etc., by airline employees concerning her weight. Seems the airline "suggested' she'd be more comfortable with two seats, instead of just one. Nowhere in the story, did you give the person's weight. This was an important item that was left out. Why?

Second item: for quite some time now, when reporting on bank robberies, muggings, attempted rapes, etc., you often will say "the suspect is 5-foot-8, weighing 190 lbs., etc. Anyone with info call the police, etc." Nowhere do you say if it is a white male, a black male, a Latino or what. What good is such a glossed-over description? -- Francis Potter, Spokane

Answer: The woman who is suing Southwest Airlines asked that we not report her weight. She also did not want to be fully photographed. We respectfully abided by her request, because it's clear from the photo we did take that she is of large stature. I think the story made it clear what her complaints against the airline are, and we spelled out the airline's response. It's more important for readers to know what the airline's practices and policies are than it is to know this woman's specific weight.

As for suspect descriptions, our goal is to be able to provide readers with enough information to act as informed citizens without racially profiling anyone. We struggle with being consistent. We are dependent on law enforcement to provide us suspect descriptions. They often contend that even partial information can help trigger the memories of witnesses. That may be true, but it is also very imprecise and often stigmatizing.

We try to publish descriptions only when we have specific details. In those cases, we will note the race of a suspect. When we don't have specific information, we avoid mentioning race because it has the effect of stereotyping. For instance, if we report that a suspect has red hair and blue eyes, but no other details, that casts everyone with red hair and blue eyes in a negative light. What we probably need to do more of is be discriminating. We need to provide only the most specific details on crimes. When we can't meet that threshhold, we probably shouldn't say anything at all. -- Carla Savalli, city editor

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