If you didn’t know, the Current in Carmel is hosting a mayoral debate from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday April 21 at the Ritz Charles, featuring incumbent Jim Brainard and his challenger Rick Sharp, president of the Carmel City Council. John Krull, of Franklin College, will be the moderator and I will be reporting on the event. Maximum seating is 1,000 people, first come, first serve with no guest list.
My editor Sophie Pappas tells me that she would love to receive reader input on questions to ask. While she certainly has her own list of great questions, it’s important to hear from the community and give a voice to our readers. So we want to know what you think. E-mail us at [email protected].
The debate should be really interesting. Two well-known accomplished men, both eloquent speakers with a grasp of the issues – yet with distinct philosophical contrast on many issues. They know each other very well and they might even be able to guess how the other person would answer certain questions.
So how do you go about crafting a great debate question? Without giving away what our moderator will do, I’ll explore this issue a little.
A news organization should always strive to be fair and objective, which is why you probably want to ask the same questions to each candidate. But you also want to be as tough as possible and not just ask softball questions and that can be tough if you have to ask everyone the same question. What would be considered a tough question for Jim Brainard might be an easy one for Rick Sharp to answer and vice versa.
You want your questions to be specific so candidates can’t just ramble on and talk about whatever they please or just recite prepared talking points. But if your questions are too specific then you might be avoiding the bigger picture involved in the debate. Do you want to ask about one specific intersection or road that is a problem or do you want to ask about the overall traffic issue?
What do you do if a candidate doesn’t answer a question and changes the topic? I’ve seen some moderators interrupt a candidate and redirect them. I’ve seen some ask the question again and I’ve seen some just ignore it and move on, hoping that the voters will see for themselves that the candidate avoided answering the question.
But the most important question to ask is: What are the issues that the voters care about? And that’s where you come in.
I’ll repeat it again, please tell us what you think we should ask the candidates. Keep in mind that questions would be for both candidates to answer. In my opinion, a good question isn’t confrontational or leading. You aren’t stating your own opinion in the question. You aren’t tricking someone to answer a certain way. You aren’t asking someone to fix a certain problem that not everyone thinks is a problem. You don’t need to explain the question or ask a follow-up.
And ideally your question leads the candidate to explain what they would do if they were elected, because really that’s what it’s all about. We want to show contrasts and listen to ideas and solutions. It’s not about tripping a candidate up and stumping them and playing gotcha journalism. We aren’t out to try to make someone look stupid so the other candidate can win. We just want to provide voters will as much information as possible so when they go into the voting booth they have an accurate idea of what each administration would look like. Of course, candidates could lie or make promises they don’t keep, but in a perfect world you won’t be surprised years later to see what an elected official does in office. You ask the questions and hopefully find out what they would do. At least, that’s the hope.
Again, e-mail your questions to [email protected].