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Thread: Good Question: Why Do Papers Endorse Candidates?

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    Default Good Question: Why Do Papers Endorse Candidates?

    (WCCO) It's endorsement season, when newspapers around the country are telling their readers who they support for political office. But why do newspapers endorse candidates when they're trying to remain unbiased sources of news?

    "We feel like all year we're giving opinions, on a real wide range of issues, 400 or so editorials a year," said Scott Gillespie, Editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune Editorial Pages. "We think most of our readers want to know how we feel about the candidates," he explained, adding that it would be unusual to give opinions on all those other issues, and then sit out a major election.

    Historically, newspapers were openly political, so endorsing candidates wasn't something that was isolated to specific Editorial or Opinion pages. It was the whole focus of the newspaper's coverage.

    In the 20th Century, when newspapers in the United States evolved to a model of objective reporting, the history of endorsing candidates remained.

    "There are two papers every day that are opinion pages," said Gillespie. "They're run, edited and written separately from the newsroom. We don't interact with them, they don't make decisions about our coverage; we don't make decisions about theirs."

    "Isn't this a giant pain in the neck for the paper? No matter what you do you're ticking off a large segment," noted WCCO reporter Jason DeRusha.

    "I don't know how many we tick off, it's a segment. It's a lot of work, it's a large investment of time, but I think it's the right thing to do," Gillespie said. "We're adding to the debate, adding to the discussion by doing endorsements."

    The editorial board is made up of eight people, including Gillespie and his boss, Star Tribune Publisher and Chairman, Chris Harte. At almost all papers, the publisher is in charge of the editorial board and has ultimate authority on the use of the newspaper's "institutional voice."

    "It's not a pure democratic process," explained Gillespie. "We try to reach consensus. We often times we disagree. At the end of the day it's up to me and the publisher of the paper to make the decision."

    On Sunday, Oct. 26, the Star Tribune endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for President, a Democrat, and Sen. Norm Coleman for Senate, a Republican. Some critics have speculated that the Star Tribune picked a Republican simply to assuage critics who accuse the paper of being liberal.

    "We don't talk party much," in the editorial conference room, said Gillespie. "We talk about the character of the candidates, the record of the candidates, their commitment to public service over the time."

    This year the St. Paul Pioneer Press opted to not endorse any candidates for president. In the editorial announcing decision, the editorial board talked about spending their time interviewing candidates for office and how the paper had no special insight on the presidential candidates.

    "We concentrate on the local and state races because we pay attention to local and state issues 365 days a year," explained Mike Burbach, Editorial Page Editor for the Pioneer Press.

    According to Gillespie, the Star Tribune planned on endorsing in all races, but they will not make an endorsement in one of the U.S. House races.

    "We don't do it very often. We don't want to do it very often because I think, if you're going to do this, generally you're going to want to come up with an endorsement," he explained.

    The non-endorsement will is in the race between Ashwin Media and Eric Paulsen.

    "Occasionally you just feel like you haven't been presented with the level of candidate who you think should be in that seat and we have one of those tomorrow, people can look for it," he said.

    "I think at the end of the day, we have a pretty informed opinion on the candidates, it's something voters can't do for themselves," he added.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Good Question: Why Do Papers Endorse Candidates?

    Thanks for posting the article, Jacob. Interesting to read how the papers in the Twin Cities deal with the issue of endorsements.

    Here in Cincinnati, there's only one paper, the editorially conservative Enquirer... and, so far in their endorsements from President (McCain) down to very local level, their choices are about as predictable as they can be. And today's Letters to the Editor have predictable responses -- from "Amen!" to "What could you be thinking!?"... along with "Why do you make endorsements?" Which is a very good question, considering most folks who've never worked in a newspaper or set foot in a Journalism school class don't understand that the Editorial Page department is separate from News which is separate from Advertising. One department must not have any control over the other.

    I think the only real, influential value endorsements have is when they are somewhat surprising or downright shocking -- for instance, the Chicago Tribune endorsing Obama (surprising because I think of the Trib of my childhood in the 60s/70s, a very right-wing Republican paper) or the Anchorage paper endorsing Obama (going against their home-state governor Palin).

    Interestingly, here in Ohio, the Cleveland Plain Dealer failed to endorse a Presidential candidate -- apparently their editorial board was tied 4-4.

    Mark

  3. #3

    Default Re: Good Question: Why Do Papers Endorse Candidates?

    I suspect that it's partially due to the arrogance of the press. "We know you don't study the issues as completely as we do - so we're going to sum it up for you and give you the smart (right) choice."

    As the article states - newspapers have long been political tools in America. Jefferson partially owned a newspaper (and hid his stake) and Franklin used to pretend to be a number of concerned readers expressing their opinions in his paper. I don't entirely buy into the notion that the "Fourth Estate" somehow became unbiased in the 20th century.

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    Default Re: Good Question: Why Do Papers Endorse Candidates?

    I never got into the endorsement part. I thought it was rather amusing that during 2000, the paper for which I worked endorsed a Republican candidate, yet nearly EVERYONE on the news desk was staunchly supporting the Democratic ticket.

    In sports reporting, it's very poor taste to endorse or show favoritism of one team or athlete over another. I can't endorse one school over another if a recruit's parent calls me. I can give them my opinion on how that school would or would not fit their son (or daughter's) needs to the best of my ability. I could also say that school is right for one kid and not another.

    Endorsing anyone outside of the editorial page would widely be considered unprofessional. Being a beat writer is a different story -- if I'm covering Iowa, I'm covering Iowa; if I'm covering Cal Poly, I'm covering Cal Poly. There, you know a reader's focus.

    I never liked the idea of any large entity endorsing one candidate while there are so many dissenting opinions within.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Good Question: Why Do Papers Endorse Candidates?

    I don't like supposed "neutral party" endorsements either. I think that it's in bad taste.

    As an aside to this, I once had a political science professor who was the hardest core democrat that you could imagine. Obviously, he and I were on the same page, but during election season he was covered, almost head to toe, in campaign pins right in class. I just thought this was in really bad taste.

    Nearly all academic institutions prohibit that, but apparently Winona State did not!
    UNI Panthers...Because it's just right.

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