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updated: 2/16/2012 10:01 AM

The dual duty of informing and engaging voters

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As every election approaches, Daily Herald editors and reporters conduct editorial board interviews with as many candidates as we can get to meet with us for local, regional, state and congressional offices. And at the beginning of each of these meetings that I conduct, I emphasize to the candidates that the interview is serving two purposes.

One, it is providing background to me as a member of the paper's editorial board that will help us determine whom the newspaper should support for election. By its nature, that is a subjective aim.

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But second, it also is providing information for our reporters, who sit in on these interviews, that they will use as they produce news stories about the campaign. That function is purely objective.

Beginning next week, you'll have the opportunity to view the distinction daily while the newspaper publishes its endorsement editorials.

As we stress to candidates, reporters are expected to write as thoroughly and as often as they can about the races to which they are assigned. They are expected to read candidates' advertising and follow their websites, Facebook pages and other social media postings. They attend and report on debates and public forums. They follow controversies and make sure that all major candidates are contacted for stories on issues or developments within a campaign.

Throughout all that, they are expected to keep whatever opinions they may have to themselves. They don't have a role in determining whom the paper will endorse, nor would we tolerate them slanting their reporting to reflect the paper's endorsements.

To every degree possible, reporters are to provide you the facts of what they see, hear and read while focusing on a campaign, and you do with those facts whatever you see fit.

Our endorsements, though, serve a different, opinionated role. Yes, you will do with them whatever you see fit as well, but they aim to help you determine that course by pitting your thoughts against the impressions and reflections of the editors who have researched the campaigns and grilled the candidates on their points of view.

One can argue -- as the Chicago Sun-Times did last month -- voters can get by with only the objective half of this process, and to be sure we aim to give you enough purely factual information to help you make reasoned choices about candidates. But we also want to do more than help you "get by." Indeed, we think it's a defining element of, an almost sacred duty within, our mission as a community citizen to challenge your thinking about individual candidates and to let you hear from a reasoned source that has researched each campaign with a depth that most voters probably do not have the time or inclination to duplicate.

We apply this approach to our editorial writing every day on a wide range of social and political topics. Beginning next week, we'll apply it again to elections. Do we think you'll agree with us on every candidate we support? Of course not. But we do promise that we'll make you think more about the elections that will determine how your interests and ideals are represented from the county courthouse to the Congress.

We hope you'll recognize the dual commitment through the news stories you read throughout most of the paper and through the expressions of opinion here on our editorial page and at the Discuss area of our website. And we also hope you'll find we've made you not just a more informed voter, but also a more engaged one.

• Jim Slusher, jslusher@dailyherald.com, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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