At its best, journalism is a vital instrument serving the public good. Here at the Daily Journal, we intend to report on Tupelo’s 2021 municipal elections in a way that is fully committed to this civic mission. Our coverage will highlight problems, probe solutions and question candidates. But we won’t allow talking points by candidates to control the conversation, and we will highlight the voices of the voters who ultimately get the final say.

Reporting on elections – be it national, state or local – is all too often exclusively preoccupied with the candidates themselves. What do those candidates promise to do? What are their qualifications? How are they criticizing their opponents? Who has the most campaign money?

Those are important questions, and we’ll answer them. But there is a much more fundamental question that often goes unasked: What issues matter most to the voters themselves?

We don’t believe citizens of this city should be passive spectators of the political process, nor should they be passive recipients of journalism done on their behalf. Our coverage of municipal elections will reflect these conviction.

How so?

We will bring the voters of this city into our journalistic process. We will find out what issues matter most to a diverse, wide swathe of this city and then we are going to ask the candidates about those issues. Some journalism researchers call this way of covering elections the “citizens’ agenda” model.

How are we going to do this?

Well, as many different ways as we can.

Beginning this week, the Daily Journal will begin distributing an online survey asking different questions about the upcoming city elections. That survey will be distributed over email and social media. If you you live in Tupelo and want to be sure you receive the survey, email at caleb.bedillion@journalinc.com and I’ll send it directly to you.

After the survey has been distributed, we’ll seek other ways to interact with voters, enlisting civic and neighborhood organizations in the task. Journalism can build community best not simply through the distribution of static information but by the wider invitation to join an active, collaborative process.

Along the way, we will build and revise a list of the issues voters seem to care about most, based on what we are hearing from those voters. And it is that list – the citizens’ agenda – that will inform the questions we ask the candidates running for mayor and City Council in Tupelo. That means if any candidates dodge or evade those questions, they aren’t dodging us. They are dodging you.

Critics of the press often claim that we journalists “have an agenda” of some kind. Rather than observing the limits of fair minded neutrality, critics say, we push our personal priorities.

I better be clear from the beginning, then, about our coverage of city elections. We do have an agenda. Our agenda is to empower citizens to play a meaningful role in their governments. Our agenda is to ensure that a representative government is responsive to those it represents. Our agenda is in favor of deliberation, collaboration and equal access to civic life for everyone.

We hope these convictions resonate with you and look forward to hearing from you.

Caleb Bedillion is a reporter and editor with the Daily Journal. Contact him on Twitter @CalebBedillion or email him at caleb.bedillon@journalinc.com.

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