Polls: Stevens should mind his tone

David Stevens, Editor

Recent polls on our newspaper’s Web site have annoyed some readers, delighted others and sparked a lot of community discussion on the issues.

The first poll that attracted multiple telephone calls to my desk ran from Sept. 5 to Sept. 12 and asked:
“How do you feel about the pay provided top-level public employees in Curry County?

n “It’s too high. Those with similar jobs in the private sector don’t make that much money in Clovis.

n “It’s too low. Those folks put in a lot of hours and have a multitude of responsibilities.

n “It’s about right.”

The majority of voters said the pay is too high.

The most recent poll that sparked controversy will end on Saturday. It asks:
“Clovis schools Superintendent Neil Nuttall is a finalist for a job at a Missouri college. Would you like to see him leave Clovis?

n “Yes

n “No

n “That might depend on his successor.”

The majority of voters have said they would like to see him leave.

Both polls were tied to recent news stories. The newspaper published a four-page report on public salaries on Sept. 5. Nuttall is one of four finalists for the president’s job at North Central Missouri College.

Most of those who complained about the polls were those whose votes were not in the majority. They said the topics were unfair for something so unscientific as a newspaper Web poll.

The other most common complaint was that interested parties must have access to a computer in order to weigh in — and each computer is only good for one vote. Some people wanted to vote all day, every day.

The delighted callers enjoyed the opportunity to take an anonymous poke at area public officials. Some were downright gleeful.

I won’t apologize for conducting Web polls. I think the readers like to offer their views on hot-button issues, especially when they can do so anonymously.

But our critics are right on a couple of points.

Our Web polls are not necessarily reflective of public opinion. If you have Internet access, you can live in Alaska and vote in our polls. You can call all of your friends and encourage them to vote in our polls, even if your friends don’t understand the issues or care about them.

Our Web polls are designed strictly to spark public discussion, not set policy.

If you’re making decisions about how to live your life based on results of Clovis News Journal Web polls, you’re probably making some silly decisions.

I’m not saying our readers are silly.

Several wrote or called this week to complain about the language in the Nuttall question. They said it was cold and unfriendly to ask readers if Nuttall should leave town and they said it implied the newspaper wants Nuttall to leave town.

That was not our intention.

On reflection, I think a better question would have been: “Should Nuttall stay in town?” Or “Is Nuttall doing a good job as superintendent?”

The difference is subtle, but tone is important.

I always write the questions for the Web poll, so there’s no one to blame but myself. Sometimes the editor needs an editor.

As for other answers to questions asked of me in recent weeks by unhappy poll watchers:
n No, Clovis News Journal staff members are not going to publish their salaries in the newspaper. We’re paid by a private employer, not by taxpayers.

n No, I’m not going to publish a Web poll asking, “Should Stevens leave Clovis?” I’m not news. I’m a storyteller.

Geez, this is a tough town.

David Stevens is editor for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. Contact him at 763-6991 or by e-mail:
david_stevens@link.freedom.com