The pros and cons of political endorsements

Apr 27, 2011

 

Tribune Publisher Kevin Hook is challenging the Tribune news staff to take a “hard look” at our endorsement policy. At previous newspapers where Hook worked, they did not do endorsements. Their policy is that it is the role of a newspaper to inform and educate readers and not dictate to them how they should vote.

At the previous newspapers where I worked, they did do endorsements. Those newspapers, including the Tribune, have felt that it is a newspaper’s role to endorse candidates so that we can help readers decide which candidates they want to support.

Now, however, as newspapers struggle with credibility issues, some industry pundits are urging newspapers to step back from making endorsements. Young readers especially feel newspapers are biased, so endorsements just worsen the situation, critics maintain.

I’ve been a longtime advocate of endorsements. It has been a tradition for newspapers — even small ones such as the Grand Haven Tribune — to make endorsements.

We will sometimes spend an hour or more with a candidate, asking questions and trying to get a feel as to what kind of public official they might be. We then pass on our opinions to the readers.

The same goes for ballot issues. We bring in supporters and non-supporters (if there are some) to talk about issues.

Political endorsements were fairly common in the 18th and 19th centuries because many newspapers then were affiliated with political parties. That’s not the case now, although we occasionally get labeled as being a Republican-backed newspaper and a Democrat-backed newspaper. It depends on who we endorse.

Through the years, I’ve had some memorable experiences with newspaper endorsements.

When I was working at the Del Rio, Texas, News-Herald, we became involved in a controversy to close a fire station.

The mayor, who supported closing the fire station, was up for re-election and we ended up endorsing his opponent.

After our endorsement came out in the paper, a reader barged into the newsroom and threatened to beat up our editor. Fortunately, we were able to step in and prevent the intruder from pounding on him.

Not all of our endorsements have created that much of a stir, but I do remember the Tribune getting quite a bit of criticism after endorsing Bill Clinton for president.

I will admit that I am uncomfortable with endorsing presidential candidates, because we don’t get to interview them. We’ve been on both sides of the fence. While we did endorse Clinton for his first term, we supported Bob Dole during Clinton’s re-election bid. We also endorsed George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

When you live in a small community like the Tri-Cities area, you get to know and become friends with a lot of people. So it’s tough when you decide not to endorse someone you have known and respected for a long time. But I’ve never had anyone threaten me because we didn’t endorse him or her.

I will agree that the newspaper’s primary function is to inform the readers. During election times, we publish profile stories and photos of local candidates.

Maybe it’s my old newspaper veins, but I feel newspaper endorsements are important.

I love listening to candidates talk about their strengths and weaknesses. It gives me a good indication how I want to vote. And I enjoy passing that information on to the voters.

We’re not telling you how to vote. We’re just offering an opinion about how we feel about candidates or local issues.

You still have time to vote on our online poll. Or you can e-mail me at lpainter@grandhaventribune.com or call me at 842-6400 Ext. 232 with your opinions.

Comments

migpilot

A newspaper is not an entity. It has no conscience, intelligence, or morals. So what it all boils down to is one or two individuals who work at that paper offering their opinion on a candidate. The majority of readers do not know these individuals personally, so why would they value those opinions? And let's face it media outlets are just that, they are not the klaxon horn of truth and altruism commonly touted beneath the sacred umbrella of "journalism". They are just businesses designed to sell copy and profit margins dictate the depth of reporting, which has been unacceptably shallow since their inception. Typically, endorsements are partisan because of the early influences in the life of a typical "journalist" giving way to more suspicion as to the validity of such endorsements. I think the new publisher hit the nail on the head. Time to start repairing the reputations of the news media.

Yaright

Len, your staff has to wake you up during these meetings...cmon really?

 

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