As election nears, time for contradictory reactions

Lesley Toth

Every two years, my job becomes much tougher while simultaneously becoming all the more interesting. Beginning in June, by my measurements, the tough-to-interesting ratio is pretty much split 50-50. Like many of our readers, a new election season beginning to unfold is an exciting prospect for me.

By mid-September, however, the numbers start to see an imbalance. Events turn from interesting to predictable, sucking the fun out of it all while turning up the toughness.

As I cover the various campaign events from elections big and small, I have been accused of being a shill for the right and the left, a stooge for the DFL and a plant for the GOP. As I take these verbal and more frequently digital beatings, the voice of my college professor is evoked from the recesses of my memories.

“You’ll have about 30 percent of people complain your report was too liberal, another 30 percent will gripe that it was too conservative — and they will be vocal. They will call your office, email you and some may even contact you at home,” he told our group of wide-eyed, idealistic students of journalism. “The other 40 percent will think you were spot on, but only about 1 percent will tell you so.”

My first taste of this contradictory reaction occurred in 2004 when then President George W. Bush visited St. Cloud during a campaign stop on his way to reelection. As a news editor for the St. Cloud State University student newspaper, I was up, dressed, equipped with my pad and pencil and in line by 4:30 a.m. that day to secure my spot in the press box. The resulting story inspired dozens of phone calls and messages to the Chronicle’s office, each citing evidence of my pro- or anti-Bush bias.

After I picked up my disheveled and thoroughly bruised ego, I remembered those words of wisdom from a guy who’d been there, and plodded on in my journalistic endeavours. Since then, each new election cycle has provided me an extra layer of skin, making my ability to take such criticisms much easier. Rather than trade my notebook and camera for  more socially beloved professions such as lawyers or used car salesmen, I suck it up.

Our society has made it rather fashionable to portray journalists as little more than nosy, agenda-driven, get-the-scoop-at-all-costs ne’er do-wells. Reporters in TV crime dramas ambush suspects and botch police investigations. In my beloved Harry Potter series, reporter Rita Skeeter stops at nothing — even making up the news — in order to add an extra tang to her juicy stories. Of course, incidents such as the deplorable actions recently taken to catch a young British noblewoman topless only serve to support these stereotypical caricatures.

However, the vast majority of journalists I have known, worked with and met in newsrooms across the state are principled folk, raising their families and doing their darnedest to present the facts objectively while pleasing our readers. As small town, community newspaper reporters, we’re not in it for the fame, and certainly not for the money.  Most of us are unable to shake that idealist notion that what we do is vital to the survival of our representative democracy — and we take that responsibility seriously.

I look forward to Tuesday, Nov. 6. I also look forward to the responses I will undoubtedly receive between now and then. Keep me on my toes, and keep the feedback coming — even if it’s to tell me about my liberal/conservative, corporate/labor, progressive/regressive, hippy/stiff, pro-kitty/anti-puppy bias.