(The following is my column for this week's Newton County News.)
The Neosho Daily News, with an assist from the economy, killed the Neosho R-5 bond issue.
It was nothing that was done by the Daily’s publisher or staff. As far as I can tell, by looking through the coverage over the past few weeks, it was professional, responsible, and informative, and supplied voters with all of the information they needed.
As I read each day’s issues of the Daily in the weeks leading up to the election, I was overwhelmed by the number of letters to the editor by people supporting the issue. It was overkill and I would be very surprised if the letters did not help increase the vote against the issue.
Day after day, one letter after another, many of them lengthy missives, decried the current facilities, and declared it was absolutely vital that this bond issue pass. The Daily editors did exactly what they should have- they printed every letter, pro and con.
Many of the letters were written by Neosho R-5 staff members. Others were penned by students. One or two letters of that nature would have been fine, but this had the appearance of an orchestrated letter-writing campaign, and even if the students and staff members decided on their own to write letters to the editor, and I have no doubt they did, it looks as if someone gave them their marching orders on the taxpayers’ dime. And when you consider that a large number of Neosho Daily News readers are beyond the age where they have children, perhaps even grandchildren, in school, those letters were like waving a red flag in front of a bull.
I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of the Daily’s demographic reach, but if it is like most newspapers, most of the readers are 50 or older. The readers who would normally favor a school building proposal would have voted yes whether there had been a stream of positive letters or not. Many others were simply reminded that here is another issue that will cost the taxpayers money, when we are in the middle of the worst economic times since the Great Depression. The letters almost served as an invitation to head for the polls and vote “no.”
And that's what voters did, defeating the bond issue 2,034 to 1,382.
Sadly, it should not be long (and it is probably already happening) before bond issue supporters start ripping into those who cast “no” votes for not supporting “our kids.” For some, I would imagine that is true. For others, this was simply an issue that was poorly timed, even if it is of vital importance to the children in the R-5 School District.
It has never been easy to reach voters for this kind of issue, but in these days, when the media landscape is changing at an unheard of rate, it is more difficult than ever. It is almost certain that at some point in the not-too-distant future, the R-5 Board of Education will submit another bond issue to the public. I wish I could offer some advice on how to reach the people who would vote for the issue and make sure they get to the polls, but there do not appear to be any surefire methods.
One thing I would recommend- Forget the letters to the editor, or at least limit them to a handful. Sadly, the days when effective letters to a newspaper could sway readers on election issues are long since gone.