Newspaper Endorsements Matter ; Opinion Editors Take Seriously Their

By McClellan, John R. | Charleston Gazette Mail, October 14, 2016 | Go to article overview

Newspaper Endorsements Matter ; Opinion Editors Take Seriously Their


McClellan, John R., Charleston Gazette Mail


This national election is raising anew some enduring questions of whether editorial endorsements matter or even should be done. They do, and they should. Huge numbers of people are committed one way or another and will not be swayed by mere mass media. Many young adults do not read legacy media on paper or phones.

But how about helping the undecided? Or the level of motivation to vote? Well-reasoned commentary can have an effect. How about telling the truth as we see it and letting the chips fall?

In some state and local elections, endorsements can be decisive as an antidote to ignorance or as fodder for TV ads. How many citizens have firsthand exposure to judicial candidates, for example? Journalists do, and many editorial boards invest hundreds of hours in learning about candidates and interviewing them in- person.

Scores of opinion editors I know take seriously their roles as advisers to the public. Some invest yet more time in helping their counterparts elsewhere.

Yes, they are largely white, collegiate, mostly male and aging. Their pages present a wide spectrum of views, but still critics say they are not sufficiently in touch with minorities, the disaffected and others. Some remain habitually liberal or conservative on nearly everything.

Editorial boards have no influence on news operations, but they examine the facts that reporters dig up. They strive to be open- minded.

Some have debated whether endorsing (or recommending) is worth the huge effort. One groups near-consensus: We have access to information and candidates that most voters do not, especially locally; we must use it. One group even discussed when to retract a position, and when to hold our noses and back the lesser doofus.

Most opinion editors put public well-being above, or at least on a par with, self-interest. Yes, they are part of an establishment fading because digital media have usurped the revenue. Yes, some are prone to status-quo-ism. Some back liberals and others oppose big government. But they all care.

My early 1960s mentor Bob Sinks advice: We cannot tell the people how to vote, only advise. We can provoke them to think. We can affect a close race (for dog-catcher, he said in jest).

At polling places, people in line had cut out our summary and marked it up. Were they voting for, or against, our recommendations? …

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