Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Endorsement Enforcement: Who Picks the Candidate? It's Not Always the Editors

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Endorsement Enforcement: Who Picks the Candidate? It's Not Always the Editors

Article excerpt

NEWSPAPER ENDORSEMENTS generally are thought to be the sacred province of editorial writers and editors.

If publishers occasionally exercise their influence in other sections of the newspaper, many believe, the putative wall between advertising and editorial reaches its apex on the editorial page.

At the Atlanta journal and Constitution, for example, "The publisher does not communicate or participate in editorial board discussions about endorsements," said editorial page editor James Wooten.

For many newspapers, however, publishers or corporate officers hold a seat on the editorial board. In those instances, endorsements may be guided by editorial writers or editors, but are presided over by a publisher with the ultimate authority to enforce his or her own choice.

At the Philadelphia inquirer, endorsements are "strictly an editorial board function;" according to Jane Eisner, editorial page editor.

But, Eisner added, the Inquirer's publisher is "invited to take part" in endorsement discussions, and holds final authority over the board's endorsement picks.

"Theoretically, I can overturn the majority vote, the editor can overturn my vote and the publisher can overturn the editor's vote," Eisner said. "All of us want that never to happen if we can help it.

"Only in the rarest of circumstances would I overturn anything," Eisner added. "If you're going to go through the whole process of taking a vote, then you should respect the vote."

Similarly, Rena Pederson, editorial page editor for the Dallas Morning News, describes the newspaper's "combination system" to arrive at endorsement decisions.

After interviewing candidates, the Morning News editorial page staff votes on their choice. A report is then made to the publisher, who in turn holds discussions with executives of corporate parent A.H. Belo. Then, Pederson said, "we go from there."

Of course, if the publisher happens to own the newspaper, editorial consensus -- with or against the publisher -- in the end may not count for much.

Nackey Loeb, president, publisher and owner of the Manchester, N.H., Union Leader, says the editorial staff was comfortable with her decision to endorse Pat Buchanan in New Hampshire's Republican primary.

"We discuss issues on a regular basis amongst us, and the consensus was that Patrick Buchanan was the only candidate who stood for the things that we could go for," Loeb explained.

"I think the decision was unanimous, yes;" Loeb added. "We try to do things on a team basis and this is all part of it."

The Union Leader does not have an editorial board, and editorial page editor Richard Lessner acknowledged Loeb's input into the endorsement process.

"It's her newspaper, so she plays a rather large role," Lessner said. However, "the Union Leader endorsed Pat Buchanan over George Bush in 1992, so it was no surprise that the newspaper endorsed him again in September."

Every four years, editors for Scripps Howard newspapers gather to "deliberate, debate and vote" for a presidential candidate whom all newspapers in the chain then publicly endorse, said Ted Burroughs, editorial page editor for the Stuart (Fla.) News.

"For everything else, we do that here;" Burroughs said. "Our editorial board is made up of senior editors and we make our own decisions on our recommendations. …

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