OPELIKA, Ala. – A couple of weeks ago, the three major newspapers in Alabama splashed the same hard editorial on top of their covers.
"Defend decency, reject Roy Moore," read the bold title in Birmingham, Mobile, and Huntsville, all part of the Alabama Media Group. Arguing that the credible charges of badual misconduct against the former judge, a Republican, disqualified him, he endorsed the Democrat Doug Jones for the United States Senate.
Some readers applauded, and some disagreed enough to cancel their subscriptions.
But in a small town in eastern Alabama, editor-in-chief Troy Turner would not even consider publishing an editorial.
"I would have bullet holes in my windows," said Turner, who grew up not far away. from Opelika-Auburn News, where he supervises a team of 11 editors. After starting there as a journalist in the 1980s, he returned in 2015 after occupying senior editing positions from New York City to New Mexico.
Also, he said, his own staff has mixed views on Moore. Not everyone is convinced of the allegations reported for the first time by The Washington Post last month. Four women said Moore pursued them romantically when they were teenagers. And one, Leigh Corfman, said that Moore touched her badually and guided her hand to touch him over her underwear when she was 14 and was 30 years old.
Even so, this 12,000-circulation newspaper, which has won numerous state awards for excellence, has not ignored the problem.
Instead, considering how people feel in conservative Lee County (named after the Confederate general), he took a cautious approach.
Turner wrote an editorial last month asking Moore to resign as a candidate, concluding that he could not be an effective senator. Its owner, too, was bold: "It's time for Roy Moore to step aside for Alabama."
He began: "The damage is done: when the situation is so bad that it unites the opposing political voices during an era of rigid political division, it leaves little doubt about what will come next." Moore should retire, he said.
"It was one of the strongest positions Paper has taken," said Rex Maynor, editor of News, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway's BH Media Group and does not endorse the candidates.
There were some readers called, but there are no bullet holes.
And the staff has found other ways to give voice to voters who deal with their mixed emotions. The most important thing is that it provides a forum for sometimes controversial discussion.
Many readers are dyed-out Republicans and Christians who attend church and can not tolerate a candidate like Jones, who supports abortion rights. Others are outraged by Moore.
"People tell us that the & # 39; character & # 39; is the main problem," said Richard "Duke" Maas, the newspaper's digital content coordinator (and former Tampa Tribune principal editor), referring to an online survey.
But it is not clear what they mean, he pointed out: Moore's alleged badual misconduct? Your record as a judge? Or the support of his opponent for the right to abortion, which deeply offends the sensibilities of Bible Belt?
Digging deeper, journalist Kara Coleman was speaking last week with residents of the two small cities where the newspaper works: more workers Opelika (a railroad town) and Auburn, the university city that houses the University of Auburn (and his soccer heroes, the Tigers).
Coleman certainly knows the territory: she grew up, and was educated at home, in Roy Moore's native Gadsden, and was a lifesaver years ago with one of her children. She has interviewed both candidates in recent months.
Outside of Coffee Cat, a café near the Auburn campus, Bill Levins, a 41-year-old beauty products salesman, expressed a thought that struck him as surprising.  "This is the first time I'm thinking about voting for a Democrat," Levins said. He is worried about the charges against Moore. "It has gone beyond the Republicans and the Democrats."
The newspaper uses its Facebook page as a forum for debate. There, a lot of unshakable support for Moore appears.
"I have never voted and I will never vote for a Democrat, I do not believe in this successful liberal work for a fraction of a second," wrote Nancy Gorman Andrews. And Laura Childs Jones referred to Jones as "the liberal baby killer."
One afternoon last week, the community advisory board met in a meeting room right next to the newsroom, where rows of empty desks bear witness to the newspaper business and where inspirational quotes decorate the walls. ("I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." – Voltaire ")
" What are you hearing from your neighbors? " Turner asked the group that it includes a Baptist minister, a League of Women Voters Representative, a local business consultant and others.
They could not agree on much, except that it is time for Alabama to clean up their political act after a triad of shame: the governor resigned last spring on the edge of the accusation. The state speaker of the house was convicted on multiple charges of felony and was dismissed. And Moore himself has been twice expelled from the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to follow federal court orders.
But, as the newspaper often hears from its readers, that might not matter on December 12.
"If the rest of the country said that the sky is blue, Alabama would say it was green," wrote Nancy Strickland Hawkins on the News Facebook page.
"Demons," replied James Claborn, "we would paint it green."
Whatever happens, the newspaper will try to reflect its readers, but will not refuse to provide any guidance, too.
"In the big newspapers, they do not go to cafes and churches with their readers like us," Turner said. "We have to be strategic crusaders."
For more information on Margaret Sullivan, visit wapo.st/sullivan