The contest for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office has been awash with conflicting statistics.
Democratic challenger Tim Nelson said his review of prosecution records showed incumbent Republican Andrew Thomas sends too many weak criminal cases to trial, with a higher number of defendants being acquitted than under previous County Attorney Richard Romley. Thomas countered with his own numbers, saying his administration has the same conviction rate as Romley's. As Thomas's prosecutors were supposed to be trying more felony cases, that would mean more criminals were being sent to prison with longer sentences.
Both candidates are experienced government actors who claimed to have the "official" facts. How could the typical voter discern the truth? Most people have too much to cope with in their own lives - bills to pay, children to raise, bosses to please - to sort through a stack of court records and gather the correct numbers for themselves.
Enter the full-time journalist, someone who can devote enough time and attention to do the research, properly test the claims of both candidates and report the results to the public. In this case, award-winning Tribune writer Ryan Gabrielson took a dispassionate look at the raw information and reported Sunday that neither Nelson or Thomas had the right story.
Thomas's office does have similar conviction rates to Romley's tenure. But Thomas' administration has been sending fewer felony cases to trial. This conclusion runs against all assumptions about Thomas' performance on criminal matters, and caught everyone by surprise.
Mainstream journalism comes under constant attack these days. Bloggers, alternative online writers and video editors have found innovative ways to hold candidates accountable for what they do and say and to deliver that information into every home.
But the Internet media revolution that is tilting away from traditional news sources has yet to create a business model for on-going independent research that would completely replace the roles of newspapers, magazines and broadcasters - the historical homes for professional journalism.
A vibrant democracy depends on voters receiving useful information that has been vetted and verified by sources outside of political campaigns. Journalism continues to play a critical role in that process, even in these difficult times for newspapers and other traditional media.