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Von Pinnon: Message taken from Friday’s front page is in eye of beholder

The front page of The Forum on Friday, April 3, 2015

The Forum’s Friday front page garnered attention far and wide.

Matt Von Pinnon, Forum editorIt featured the photos, names, cities and party affiliations of all 94 North Dakota House members who voted Thursday on two bills that, if passed, would have outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The exact same treatment was done on Page A6 of that day’s paper featuring members of the North Dakota Senate, which had narrowly passed the bill earlier.

Most importantly, it showed how each lawmaker voted on those bills.

Click here to see a high-resolution PDF of Friday's front page of The Forum

That simple roll call presentation of the facts – a fairly routine and traditional reporting feature whenever high-interest bills are voted on – gained a lot of regional and national attention because it began on the front page.

So why present a roll call vote on the front page?

Legislation like what was voted on last week in North Dakota is among the hottest topics in the land right now.

Indiana and Arkansas are embroiled in similar debates, with constituents and large corporations such as Wal-Mart loudly weighing in on the division, perhaps simplistically framed as a fight for gay rights versus a fight for religious freedom.

Closer to home, several business leaders have said approving equal protection for gays is important from an employee retention and attraction standpoint while acknowledging that younger workers tend to hold this value in higher regard than their older counterparts.

Minnesota briefly debated whether to impose a state-funded travel ban to Indiana over concerns that Indiana would allow discrimination of gays in the name of religious freedom. Late last week, Gov. Mark Dayton said no such ban would happen as long as Indiana keeps working to legislatively resolve the conflict.

From April 2: ND House kills bill outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation

Everyone seems to have an opinion on this ongoing social issue, whether they openly share it or not.

For all these reasons, we thought this roll call vote was appropriate for Page One.

There was not one subjective piece of information on that front page.

But as with any divisive social matter, people see this objective information through their own lens.

Some people accused us of or congratulated us for “shaming” lawmakers who voted against the bills.

That was not our intent.

In fact, a good chunk of Friday’s front page also features the faces, names, cities and political parties of lawmakers who voted in favor of the bills.

Many readers with strong views on both sides of this political debate called or emailed us to thank us for this information. They said they will keep it and use it during the next election to help them cast their legislative vote.

Many also said they have a tough time finding lawmaker voting records on the Legislative website, so they wished we did this kind of roll-call treatment more routinely on matters of high public interest.

We will aim to do more of that, though perhaps more sparingly on the front page.

The lawmakers we spoke with Friday say they have no problem with how we chose to prominently present their votes. Many say it reinforces to their constituents that they are aptly representing their district’s wishes.

Information is powerful, especially when it’s objective.

We like to think Friday’s fact-based front page gave voters a powerful tool, no matter which side of this social issue they’re on.

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579, or on Twitter @inforumed

Related: Jim Shaw: ND finds itself way behind

Matthew Von Pinnon

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum.

(701) 241-5579