With the primary election coming up in Montgomery County, I realized something recently. I didn't know where to read about local candidates. We no longer have a local newspaper.
It's the first statewide election day since The Gazette closed this summer. Leading up to the election, there have been very few county-specific candidate profiles, campaign finance stories and issue pieces, and, really, not much of anything. I mean, thank goodness Bethesda magazine increased its coverage of Montgomery County in the last year. There is also My McMedia, which is well done, but funded by the government. And there is the League of Women Voters Guide, which is great for election basics, if nothing else. There is also the Post and The Sun's coverage of the U.S. Senate and congressional races, but I haven't seen much from them that has been more local than that. (Here's one Post piece with Montgomery County school board candidates). (Correct me if I'm missing anything.)
The new gaps in coverage are pretty terrifying, considering how congressional, school board and court races are being decided - not to mention those increasingly-important convention delegates, which never seemed to matter before. (Wouldn't a neat story be looking at local undecided delegates, and finding out who they will support?) It made me think whether the outcome of the primary would have been different had there been reporters assigned to vet the background of each candidate, examine their record and donations, and ask them hard questions about how they would do what they say they are going to do.
It also made me think about how much of my knowledge of local government and education policy I have already lost. And that made me realize, if I don't know what's going on - when I'm the kind of person who tries to keep a tab on things - then many, many other people probably don't know, either.
And if that's the case, then what really could be going on, without anyone ever knowing?
(and something more personal)
I had only lived in the D.C. area for 12 days and had only worked as a full-time newspaper reporter for four when I was sent out to cover my first election, on Nov. 2, 2010. I drove out on dark, unfamiliar roads around 6:30 a.m. to my assigned polling place in rural Damascus, Maryland, arriving just before the polls opened. I had the names of all of the races, candidates and their affiliations scribbled in my notebook. I had no idea who they were, or where I was, but I was so ready to go. I stood outside the polling place, smiled, and waited.
A half hour later, and my notebook looked about the same, but my enthusiasm did not. I had forgotten that people have much better things to do than talk to a reporter, especially when they're rushing to vote before heading to work. Especially a reporter who acted as timid as I did. (Also, I was cold. I had just moved from Arizona. I didn't own a winter coat. It was 32 degrees that morning. I know, because my pen only worked sometimes - this is the day I learned to always bring pencils.) When I did convince a few people to talk to me, I forgot to ask how old they were, and their political affiliation. I even got one of the candidate's first names wrong when asking someone who they voted for. Later that day, I threw together a scrappy story that my *amazing* editor mostly rewrote. It was my first political story.
That day was absolutely terrifying for me. But looking back, I see it was just the start of so many new and exciting (and equally terrifying) experiences that I have had since moving out here. Tomorrow is the first election day in five and a half years I won't be covering at the local or state level. It will be hard for me to not be in a newsroom. But I wish everyone who is good fun, and good pizza.