For too many years to count I fielded random questions from the public. It was part of daily life at newspapers across the nation. Some were general interest questions, others were matters of trivia. A few sports-related ones stemmed from bar bets while the callers were watching games on TV. And the vast majority of questions were from people who wanted to know anything from when to vote to what time the Super Bowl starts. The Super Bowl calls used to begin around Oct. 1.
Party planning begins early, apparently.
In the 1980s, when the Times-News was an afternoon newspaper, a woman called every morning at around 7:05 to ask the time. I used to ponder the fate of that woman when morning delivery of the Times-News started and the newsroom arrived later in the day. I imagined the phone ringing, and ringing and ringing …
And when I was in sports, a desperate-sounding man called some mornings wanting the outcomes of games involving Long Beach State, Fresno State, Azusa Pacific, the University of Hawaii-Hilo — you know, not your typical ACC Country kinds of teams. I wondered who his bookie might be.
So you see, in days of yore, newspaper folks spent loads of time on the telephone with people who needed information and wanted it fast. Strange as it sounds now, we were the Bing and Google during that period before a now web-weary world found newspapers too slow. On the plus side, we’re still around and Ask Jeeves is long gone.
Anyway, we don’t get nearly the phone calls we used to on that score — or emails for that matter. The internet has become a sort of high-speed encyclopedia-gazeteer-almanac available on a desktop or telephone for quick access to thousands of answers to questions.
But occasionally we still get calls because — believe it or not — there are people who don’t have internet access and have no interest at all in obtaining it. For those customers, we are the internet.
I told city editor Brent Lancaster as much several months ago after a longtime friend called to find out about candidates running for state offices during the May primary. He had no idea who the people running might be. I looked up information online and gave him the skinny on the people running.
That’s actually a traditional newspaper role — providing information. Most believe we report news but that’s truly only part of the equation. Particularly during an election cycle, information is critical. Timing is everything.
I was reminded of this again a week or so ago when a reader called with questions about judges running for statewide office. Because the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court races are non-partisan, voters don’t have a quick grasp of who’s who — or what. The candidates also can’t answer questions about specific cases. We hope to print some information about the judicial candidates in a special section devoted to the coming election that will be published Oct. 14. The section will also include bios of candidates for local offices, sample ballots and polling places.
In terms of timing, I got a reminder about that as well last week when an emailer asked when early voting starts. The date is Oct. 18, which is just around the corner.
Because of early voting, the Times-News has had to accelerate its pre-election coverage in order to get information to voters. In today’s newspaper we begin our daily look at local races with the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education. The series includes candidate bios and a daily question. Each race will have four to five questions. The Board of Education will be followed by the county Board of Commissioners.
Look for it on our Region page.
And Monday the first of our two candidate forums will be held at the Paramount Theater, 128 E. Front St., in downtown Burlington. The two candidates for Register of Deeds — incumbent Republican Hugh Webster and Democratic challenger Becky Mock — will start things at 7 p.m., followed by candidates for the non-partisan Board of Education. The candidates are: Incumbents Jackie Cole, Steve Van Pelt and Patsy Simpson and challengers Pam Thompson and Greg Beavers.
Byron Tucker of WPCM radio (920 AM) will serve as moderator and also air the broadcast live. Audience members are encouraged to bring questions for the candidates. Times-News staff members will be available to take questions in writing from those in the audience and deliver them to the moderator.
Candidates can bring campaign materials, which will be available on tables provided by the Paramount. No campaign signs, stickers or literature may be placed on windows of the theater.
The second candidate forum is at 7 p.m. on Oct. 15 and will feature candidates for N.C. General Assembly and the county Board of Commissioners.
It should be fun — not to mention informative.