"Tired of smug jerks" writes on the PleasantonWeekly.com's Town Square forum that he (or she) could not believe a particular business was again voted Best of Pleasanton. "Do you only give awards to shops that advertise in the Weekly???" asks "Tired."
No, it's not advertisers who win. My life would probably be easier if that were the case. But then what is the point of having a readers' choice contest?
Therein lies the point: It is the readers making the selection of winners, not the Weekly staff.
The Weekly staff implemented several measures to ensure the results of the Best of Pleasanton were untainted. First, all voting was done online. No hanging chads here! And only verified votes were used in the tallies. An email address could only be verified once, so ballot-box stuffing was thwarted.
But I am from Chicago, where the motto on Election Day is "Vote Early and Often." So, being somewhat jaded, I personally researched any anomalies, such as an inordinate amount of votes for one business. By listing all the verified email addresses and identifying any with duplicate or similar user names but different domain names I could tell if someone was trying to stuff the ballot box that way. Especially when I researched the votes made under the email addresses to see if they were the same under both email addresses. I found no ballot box stuffing.
The businesses on the drop-down selection boxes came from last year's contest and new entries as submitted by staffers. And, in case we missed any, we accepted write-ins. If the same organization was written in by two or three voters, I put it on the drop-down list, even if they were outside of our circulation area. I figured that if two or three people took time to write a business in, there was a good chance other folks from Pleasanton went outside our area.
The Weekly's advertisers were in fact on the dropdown lists, as were non-advertisers. Advertisers won in some categories while non-advertisers won others. During the three weeks between the end of the survey and the time the winners were announced, we extended invitations to the winners to tout their award. Nobody was excluded from that opportunity.
I am happy to see that so many readers took time to vote for their favorites. That was the point of all the time and effort that went into Best of Pleasanton.
Mea culpa. We will include the phrase "Readers' Choice" in the "Best of Pleasanton 2008." As well as wanting everyone to acknowledge that it's the readers making these selections, we in no way want anyone to think this was based on more than readers simply choosing their favorites. Many things beyond popularity go into being "The Best."
If you are curious about the rankings in a particular category, please email me. I appreciate that readers take ownership in their community newspaper enough to ask these questions. Transparency is imperative to integrity and ethics; integrity and ethics are imperative to a quality newspaper.
Gina Channell-Allen, a 20-year journalism veteran, is the president of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Publishing Company, president of the Pleasanton Weekly and publisher of the Danville Weekly. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.