Brent Boyer: Navigating Steamboat 700
February 4, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Perhaps the most important city election in a generation, the fate of the Steamboat 700 annexation falls into the hands of the registered voters who will cast mail-in ballots beginning the week of Feb. 15. The passion of those residents who support or oppose the development is visible in the yard signs, bumper stickers, mailers and campaign advertisements more prevalent by the day.
In recent weeks, I found myself grappling with the question of how to fairly represent the viewpoints of those residents who already have made up their minds on the annexation. Letters to the editor are a natural and appropriate course of action for readers who want to express their views to fellow community members. But it becomes a challenge when advocates on either side of the debate seek to use the opinion pages of the newspaper for letter-writing campaigns — in other words, coordinated efforts to fill the paper with pro- or anti-Steamboat 700 opinions.
The truth is, there's not much value for readers when newspapers permit such letter campaigns. Instead of debating the issues, the letters often become part of a larger tit-for-tat, back-and-forth battle of who can appear to have the most community support for their viewpoint. I'm more interested in substantive debate about the issues, and I think readers — and voters — benefit when the debate takes that course.
Two weeks ago, I informed the spokesmen for the Let's Vote and Good For Steamboat issue committees that we would not publish any letters from their memberships. Of course, that doesn't mean there's not value to each group's interpretations of the annexation and its impact on Steamboat Springs and Routt County. So I proposed a series of point-counterpoint opinion pieces to be penned by representatives of both sides.
I'm pleased that the issue committees agreed to the proposal, and this Sunday will mark the first of five scheduled point-counterpoint pieces that will run side by side on the ViewPoints page. This week's topic is "Traffic and Transportation." Let's Vote and Good For Steamboat will be given 700 to 750 words to make their cases for why Steamboat 700 is good or bad for our community relative to each of the five topic areas. And none of this is to say we won't continue to weigh the merits of letter submissions from unaffiliated community members.
Our Steamboat 700 coverage won't end there. Reporter Mike Lawrence will continue to examine issues related to the annexation. His articles have anchored the front page of Sunday's Steamboat Pilot & Today newspaper for the past four weeks, and they will continue do so through the mail-in election. If you have any questions or suggestions for Steamboat 700 coverage, please contact Lawrence at 970-871-4233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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We're also putting together a voters guide to Steamboat 700 that will appear as a special supplement in the Feb. 17 Steamboat Today. Again, we'd love to hear from readers about what issues they'd like a better grasp on in order to make an informed decision.
We recognize the significance of this issue to Steamboat Springs and Routt County, and we're going to continue to provide objective coverage on Steamboat 700. Send suggestions or thoughts to me at email@example.com.