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Opinion: SBJ joins voter education coalition to serve readers

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I’m still catching up that it’s 2024 – how about you? Imagine my surprise then when national news coverage of the Iowa caucuses began earlier this month. Ready or not, the calendar has turned and it’s that time again – this presidential election year is off and running.

Of course, every year provides an opportunity to cast a vote. While it seems many reserve the term election year for every four years, consequential candidate races and issues appear annually on the ballot.

As the national news media keys in on the race for the nation’s top executive office, closer to home, Springfield Business Journal is joining an effort to focus on local candidate races.

The Informed Voter Coalition is a 13-member nonpartisan group with the goal of educating voters and engaging candidates with citizens.

Volunteers from the coalition are currently meeting to organize efforts around candidate interviews for the April school board races in Nixa, Ozark, Springfield and Willard.

The coalition prioritizes equity in the process – all candidates will be asked the same questions and be allotted the same amount of time to answer; questions are not provided in advance, and no organization involved in the coalition will provide endorsement or support for the candidates.

We believe this unbiased and simple approach will inform voters’ choices when they head to the polls in a little over two months. It’s an opportunity to hear straight from the candidates, unfiltered and raw, and to learn where they stand on issues pertinent to the office they seek.

The nonpartisan members crafting the questions, conducting the interviews and sharing the content are: Be Civil Be Heard, Drury University’s L.E. Meador Center for Politics & Citizenship, Junior League of Springfield, KSMU Ozarks Public Radio, Leadership Springfield, League of Women Voters of Southwest Missouri, Missouri State University’s Office of Public Affairs, Ozarks Technical Community College’s Social Sciences Department, Rosie, Springfield Business Journal, Springfield-Greene County Library District, Springfield NAACP and Springfield News-Leader.

During the week of March 18 over the noon hour, tune into local NPR-affiliate KSMU at 91.1 FM to hear school board candidate interviews. As they air, SBJ.net will publish the full video interviews prepared by the News-Leader free to all readers, along with excerpts from the interviews in a March print edition.

I’ve admired the work of the Informed Voter Coalition from afar since its 2019 inception and last year asked the group to discuss adding SBJ to its ranks.

The mission of the group closely aligns with our mission. For nearly 45 years, SBJ staff has taken pride in publishing relevant content for our business community. News content that is trustworthy, unbiased and informative at its core has never been more critical as misinformation is becoming easier to mask as real, and divisiveness is turning people off to leaning into important issues.

Initial evidence from a 2023 Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism report finds news interest and news trust are rebounding in the U.S. after significant drops last year. According to the study, 73% of respondents report accessing news at least once per day, up 6 percentage points from the previous year, while interest in news has recovered slightly, and trust rebounded by 6 percentage points after last year’s lows.

But still, the study reports news avoidance remains prevalent. A Pew Research Center study backs that up – with only 38% of adults saying they follow news all or most of the time. That’s down 13 percentage points since 2016.

In studies I’ve read, the consensus is local news often bucks these trends and has a higher degree of trust among consumers. I’m betting on that for our work as a member of the Informed Voter Coalition in bringing you information as you head to the polls in April.

I believe the work of providing trustworthy news has never been more important. At the same time, it’s never been more important for voters to lean in to engage with the issues and races. Decisions made today affect our community and businesses tomorrow. It’s our goal to empower voters with education. After that, we leave the responsibility with you to take to the ballot box.

Springfield Business Journal Executive Editor Christine Temple can be reached at ctemple@sbj.net.

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