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Newspaper editorial board endorsements have been a campaign season tradition for decades. Prior to the Internet, people got most of their information about candidates running for office from newspapers. This made editorial board endorsements extremely influential. But now that information about candidates is just a click away, the impact of these endorsements has waned.
Newspaper endorsements have always been controversial. Although the editorial pages are a separate section of the newspaper, endorsements can wreak havoc on the objective nature of journalism.
The Pioneer Press decided this election season not to endorse candidates, but instead it will participate in a conversation about key races and issues. The editorial board wrote:
“Editor’s note: As Election Day approaches, we begin a special focus on candidates and issues in this space. We won’t make candidate endorsements this year, but we will discuss key races in the East Metro area, including some that could help shift the balance of power in the Minnesota Legislature. We’ll also discuss statewide and local ballot initiatives and other races of particular interest, and we welcome your letters and comments to help build the conversation.”
When The GP Spin heard about this development, two of our team members who have worked in the media had very different opinions about the news. While Chris Duffy thought this move would make the Pioneer Press seem less biased, Mike Zipko thought the newspaper was abdicating its responsibility. Below are their thoughts.
As a former journalist, I know firsthand the challenges reporters face with public perception. While working on stories in the field, many people told me they think the media is “biased,” “liberal,” and yes – even “conservative.” This frustrated me because I always tried my hardest to report stories through an unbiased filter. When newspapers endorse candidates, it immensely hurts the media’s ongoing struggle to not be perceived by the public as biased. Granted, it is the editorial boards – not the reporters – who make the decisions about which candidates to endorse. But most people don’t draw that conclusion. When a newspaper endorses a candidate, most people view that newspaper (and everyone associated with the paper) as partial toward the political party associated with that candidate. In a world where even newspapers share political opinions, is there anyone we can trust to just report the facts?
Many people might say that their political opinions are not swayed by newspaper endorsements. That may be true, but I guarantee it affects the way people perceive the newspaper (and media) as a whole. Considering the recent Gallup poll suggesting that six in 10 Americans have little or no trust in the media, perhaps other newspapers should rethink their philosophy on political endorsements.
I applaud the Pioneer Press and other newspapers around the nation that have discontinued the endorsement of candidates. Leave that to the Lindsay Lohans and Chuck Norrises of the world. The role of newspapers is to inform the public about candidates’ stances on the issues and let people decide for themselves which candidates they prefer.
In addition to their main role of gathering and sharing news, newspaper editors have always been an important voice in the community. Editors have unparalleled access to news and are extremely well-informed about a broad range of issues that impact the community. The Pioneer Press’s decision to no longer endorse candidates weakens their relationship with the community at a time when it is critically needed.
A newspaper endorsement is valuable because candidates have to convince informed members of an editorial board why they are the best candidates. Candidates need to prove their worth to people who understand budget nuances, know how the crime rate affects the community, and comprehend how the community is changing. In return, the editorial board gives the rest of us a better-informed point of view. We don’t need to agree with what the paper thinks, but we have access to a reasoned argument about the candidates.
We live in a world where everyone who has an opinion (informed or not) shares, tweets and posts what they think. The sad reality of this situation is that the Pioneer Press has left a vacuum that others without the same history or high standards will try to fill.
What do you think? Share your thoughts on the Goff Public Facebook page.