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Why does paper leave out important story information?

Is it that the Shreveport Times doesn’t like to use available academic research to use as information in their stories? Or maybe it’s just information that doesn’t fit a pre-determined story template? Or even as simple as it exhibits poor news judgment?

Last week a reporter contacted a Bossier Parish resident about a story dealing with term limits. After some discussion, the reporter sent the following note to her:

I appreciate you seeing if anyone else will talk to me, even if it’s just a voter.
Right now I’ve got a bunch of elected officials and the parish attorney telling me why they don’t need term limits. I’d like to balance it out with a few people that say they do. I agree with you, it would present and interesting perspective.

This story is being held to run Monday, so I’ve got a couple of days if you come across anyone that wants to comment.

Knowing what I do for a living, that resident contacted me, not knowing that I am working on some research to be presented dealing with the effect of term limits on this year’s state legislative contests and therefore I had a amassed a good bit of previous research on the issue. Thus, I was able to contact the reporter with the following message, received last Tuesday night at The Times:

From a political science perspective on the matter, term limits provide an alteration to the typical "incumbency advantage" enjoyed by current officeholders. We have long established that candidates running for reelection enjoy a resource advantage typically over challengers. This is because (1) they usually are more visible than challengers because of their positions (which usually works to their benefits), (2) because of their positions they find it easier to raise resources for reelection because a connection between them and benefits bestowed by government is more easily seen, and (3) they can deploy resources of their offices in performing their duties simultaneously to assist their campaigns. This resource advantage increases the chances of election relative to those of the typical challenger.

We also know that this "buffer" thus created can make for reduced accountability or, in our parlance, allows more distance between the issue preferences of an officeholder compared to those of the median voter without electoral punishment, i.e. defeat. What researchers have found is that term limits tend to produce candidates who are closer to the median voter. This is because when term limited incumbents are forced out, they are typically replaced by winners who are closer to the median voter. In other words, term limits produce more accountable officials.

Further, we know that the incumbency effect becomes magnified in smaller constituencies, i.e. an incumbent on the Bossier Parish Police Jury, all other things equal, enjoys a bigger incumbency advantage than say a Louisiana senator. This is because the larger the constituency, the less able an incumbent is able to make a personal connection with a voter. Therefore, term limits would make for a sharper "correction" in this case.

Thus, instituting term limits for the Police Jury likely would increase the Jury's accountability to the public.

I sent along my phone number as well but never heard from this person. None of this appeared in the story. In it were reactions from elected officials (who predictably said there shouldn’t be term limits), from residents who said there should be, and a “political analyst” untrained in this area who also offered nothing more than anecdotal, impressionistic accounts. Yet perhaps the most enlightening information, the latest research with definitive empirical answers rather than normative guesses which any decent reporter could summarize into a sentence or two, was not included.

Was it because The Times disdains academic work? Or maybe The Times either is against term limits and it did not want to run information showing that they create more accountability or it thought that would reduce the “controversy” aspect of the article and thus make it less compelling to read? Or perhaps it was a matter of poor decisions made by the reporter and/or her editor, thinking somehow supposition about an issue would better serve readers than verifiable research?

Whatever the motivation, The Times disserved readers when readily-available, important information about an issue got left out.

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