Monday, December 04, 2017

Small Ala. daily handles Roy Moore carefully, gets written up by Washington Post media columnist

Covering the controversial can be a minefield for community newspapers, so the Opelika-Auburn News is carefully navigating coverage of former judge Roy Moore's campaign for the U.S. Senate, Margaret Sullivan reports for The Washington Post. The BH Media Group-owned daily has "won numerous statewide awards for excellence" and has a circulation of 12,000 and 12 newsroom employees, led by Editor Troy Turner.
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Turner told Sullivan "I would have bullet holes in my windows" if he ran a strong anti-Moore editorial like that published last month by the state's three largest papers, all owned by Newhouse-owned Alabama Media Group, in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville. And it's not just the public Turner has to deal with: His own staff has mixed opinions about Moore, who is accused of sexual misconduct against teenage girls and has a statewide following from his controversial career on the Alabama Supreme Court, from which he was ousted twice. "Not everyone is convinced," Sullivan reports.

Turner published a nuanced editorial last month in which he called for Moore to withdraw from the race -- not because the accusations against him were necessarily accurate, but because he believed Moore could not be an effective senator with so much controversy hanging over his head. Withdrawing would enable the state Republican Party to find a more credible candidate before the special election on Dec. 12.

The News' publisher, Rex Maynor, said Turner's editorial was "one of the strongest stances the paper has taken." Turner told her, “At the big papers, they don’t go into the coffee shops and churches with their readers like we do. We have to be strategic crusaders.”

"There were some ticked-off readers, but no bullet holes" after the editorial ran, Sullivan reports. "And the staff has found other ways to give voice to voters grappling with their mixed emotions. Most importantly, it provides a forum for sometimes contentious discussion," including posts on its Facebook page.

Moore is from Gadsden, in northeast Alabama. Thirty miles to the south, in Anniston, the locally owned and usually liberal Anniston Star published an editorial Nov. 20 criticizing Republican Gov. Kay Ivey for supporting Moore. Its most recent editorial urged voters to ignore the national turmoil about Moore and "consider what our state needs."

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