Saturday's Wytheville Enterprise has been getting a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons.
Circumstance has it that the challenger for the position of sheriff paid for a sticky note ad on the exact same day that questions and answers from the incument and the challenger were printed in the paper. Furthermore, it just so happened that the ad for the challenger was placed over the photograph and the first few lines of the incumbent.
This is a case of unfortunate timing. Though some have speculated that the paper was favoring one candidate over another, we can assure that is not the case. No one in the news department knows what is on a sticky note ad until it is delivered to our mailboxes and news stands. In fact, no one in the news department even knows if there is a sticky note ad until the paper is printed and delivered. The reverse is true, too, and that's the way it should be. There is and must be a bright line between what is news content and what is advertising content. One cannot and does not impact or change the other.
Neither side has an agenda. Advertising is looking to best serve the clients who have purchased space in our newspaper, meeting their needs and trumpeting their information. The editorial side is looking to tell the stories that readers need to know to be fully participating and informed citizens.
Furthermore, a machine 70-some miles away from the Wytheville Enterprise building afixes the sticky notes to the front of newspapers. It doesn't care what the content of the paper or the ad are. It does the same job in the same way thousands of times a night. The machine places the ads in the spot just below the nameplate of the newspaper so as not to interfere with mailing labels. That means when there are sticky notes on the Enterprise they almost always cover up content.
It's unfortunate in this instance that Doug Carner's advertising covered up a portion of Keith Dunagan's Q&A. Carner had no way of knowing this would happen. When he bought the ad neither he nor the person who sold him the space knew when the Sheriff's Office race questions and answers would be printed. Carner was on the left side of the paper, the one without the sticky note, because candidates in contested races are listed alphabetically.
The sticky notes positioning doesn't change the answers to what we feel are important questions and informative and thoughtful answers from both candidates. We would urge everyone to peel off the sticky note, dismiss any lingering thoughts that there is some kind of subtext to the whole thing, and read what each man has to say about real issues that impact each of our lives. Each of the candidates have decades of law enforcement experience and well-thought out positions on everything from drug crimes to body cameras.
We as voters owe it to Carner and Dunagan to not get caught up in petty politics and gotcha moments and instead give due consideration to two serious candidates. Perhaps the worst part is that this due consideration is being lost because of something that was beyond each candidate's control and was an unfortunate mishap.
Hopefully the debate online and in community gathering spots will quickly turn from how or why an advertisement was so placed to conversations about what each man had to say about body cameras, the drug epidemic and the future of policing. The issues matter, especially at the local level. And on the issues Wythe County residents are lucky that they have two qualified candidates who are strong on the issues and have given serious considerations to them, not to where an advertisement is placed.