Free News Space p.9

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez TELEVISION IS NOT the only medium offering an unfiltered communication forum to the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.
The Chicago Sun-Times and the Thomson L.A. News Group in California have offered space to the two major-party candidates, giving them a chance to write directly to the public without a media filter.
"We wrote to say it looks like a great idea, and we look forward to participating," said Clinton/Gore '96 spokesman Joe Lockhart, adding that the campaign has asked for more details about the offers.
"The president has said in the past that he looks forward to the chance to speak directly to the voters," Lockhart added.
"This is a good opportunity to make our case. It's a very positive step by different media organizations to allow the candidates to make their case in a more extensive way."
Christina Martin, a spokesperson for the Dole for President campaign, said only that, "All such proposals are under consideration."
Neither the Sun-Times nor the Thomson L.A. News Group, however, had received a response from either campaign as E&P went to press.
The Sun-Times offer was made to the two presidential candidates, as well as to Illinois candidates for the U.S. Senate.
They have been offered two full pages, about 2,000 unedited words, with the photo of their choice, to be published in October.
The Sun-Times will reject submissions if they are simply campaign promotional ads, said editor in chief Nigel Wade, explaining that they should read more like an essay.
The Sun-Times got the idea from a series of readers' forums, where participants told the newspaper they wanted more direct communication with the candidates, Wade said.
"They told us repeatedly that they see the media getting in the way of the message. They want us to step back," Wade said.
The Sun-Times is not abrogating its editorial responsibility, Wade added, noting that the paper's writers and columnists will analyze the pieces.
"We're not abandoning our editorial prerogative. We're giving them a chance to put it in their own words," Wade commented. "It's an experiment," he added. "It's one day, one issue of the paper. Why not get a few things down in black and white?"
Further, he pointed out that there are potential commercial benefits, through promoting and possibly selling more papers when the essays run.
Wade said he saw no reason why the candidates should not take him up on the offer.
"It's not exactly dangerous waters for them," he said. "It's just a slightly innovative turn to what they do every day. I don't know why they'd be afraid."
The presidential candidates likely would run on consecutive days in the Sun-Times during the first week of October, a month before the election, with the president, out of deference to the office, going first. The Senate candidates would run the following week, probably in alphabetical order.
In the name of fairness, all candidates would have the same deadline, so whomever runs second could not use his space to attack the message from the previous day, Wade noted.
In California, the Thomson L.A. News Group ? which includes the Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Whittier Daily News ? has offered the Clinton and Dole campaigns one page each on their op-ed pages to state their case on a specific issue or to write a more personal essay about their vision for America and why one would be the best choice for president.
"The text of your message," the letter to the candidates explained, "would be your decision within the common restrictions or considerations of taste, decency and libel law."
The op-eds would run on two Sundays: the first on Aug. 18, between the party conventions, and then on Oct. 27, 10 days before the election.
The papers would expand their normally page-and-a-half of Sunday op-eds to two pages on those days.
The idea to offer unfettered op-ed space came after the newspapers had run editorials supporting free time on network television, as well as suggesting the same offer for drive-time on news and public radio stations, explained editorial page editor Kevin O'Leary.
John R. Irby, the group's vice president and executive editor, said he received a letter from a reader responding to the editorial and suggesting the newspapers also offer free space.
While the letter writer provided the impetus, Irby said the idea was one that he had been thinking about for a while.
Another reason for the offer, Irby said, is that "We've been hearing from readers that we always put spin on things and are not objective. This is a chance to present it without spin."
The newspapers also likely would run news stories about the opinion pieces, Irby said.
Former Washington Post reporter Paul Taylor, who has been very active in trying to secure free television time for candidates through the Free TV for Straight Talk Coalition, was "very impressed" by the proposal.
"I think there is a dual obligation when any journalistic organization covers the campaigns to scrutinize and to be a conduit for the candidates to lay out their platforms," Taylor said.
"There couldn't be a more fundamental task in a democracy."
Most newspapers, Taylor added, already do similar things anyway, through voters' guides and mini profiles that appear before the election, and many newspapers run the transcripts of major speeches.
"This seems like a natural extension of this very valuable service," Taylor commented. "In all different arms of journalism, there's a recognition and a desire to help elevate the discourse."
?(Although they haven't yet agreed to take advantage of it, President Clinton and his Republican opponent in November's president election, Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan), have been offered free news space in the Chicago Sun- Times and Thomson's California newspapers.) [Photo & Caption]


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