Election season is finally over.
Losing campaigns are licking their wounds, promising supporters a ‘next time.’
Winning candidates are suddenly gripped with fear, realizing they actually have to do something other than shake hands and stake yard signs (although that point is debatable).
No question there is a lot that goes into an election. Large or small there are financial, professional and personal interests at stake on every ballot.
Business owners, residents and supporters jump to either side of political lines and declare ‘this is my candidate!’
Picking a side is what people do, but I don’t think it is what newspapers should do.
The political newspaper endorsement, as old as the newspaper itself, jumps in to the political fray by publishing a list of “endorsed” candidates for office.
While many of them defend their choices by making them “independent of the news staff” I can’t help but think they degrade credibility and/or create doubts about objectivity in the minds of readers.
Do endorsements actually sway any voters? Somewhere there is an undecided voter waiting to see whom the New York Times endorses for the 41stState Senate District, but by-and-large voters will make up their minds on their own.
Maybe they gain favor with a particular candidate? Newspapers are still business interests. Publishers and newspaper owners are like any other business, they want the support of the candidate that will listen when they have something to say. But what if they back the losing candidate? Where does that put the newspaper in the eyes of the winning campaign? Will that make the elected official more or less comfortable with the news staff? I think it’s healthy for newspapers to make politicians uncomfortable, but I think it should be from a position of integrity not an adversarial one.
There have been a number of articles of late asking whether newspaper endorsements matter in presidential races. It’s nice to read well-written articles from micro-news companies like FloridaWatchdog.org and even some larger news outlets like Bloomberg asking questions about editorial endorsements.
Most agree that they make little to no difference to voters.
But I think they make a difference in public perception and trust of news organizations.
A National Public Radio segment asked voters in Ohio if the endorsement of Mitt Romney by the Columbus Dispatch newspaper swayed them, a local restaurant owner said, “Honestly, it doesn’t influence me at all. There’s definitely an underlying mistrust in the media from my perspective.”
I don’t think this is a singular opinion.
In a September 2012 poll, Gallup found that nearly 60 percent of Americans mistrusted news media, including television, radio and newspapers.
Editorial endorsements aren’t the only contributing factors, but I don’t think they are helping.
A couple of months ago I had a meeting with one of my supervisors at Gatehouse Media, the parent company of The Signal, and we both agreed that the editorial page and political endorsements can hurt community newspapers. Endorsements deteriorate the impartiality needed to serve entire communities.
I think newspapers, especially ones that serve small communities, need to be extra vigilant to not only stay impartial but to manage perceptions of impartiality. With the emotions and inevitable side-picking that comes with elections, it seems endorsements are a good place to start.