The prestigious Editor & Publisher magazine asks in an editorial: “TO ENDORSE OR NOT TO ENDORSE” that raises the age-old question of whether newspapers should endorse political candidates.
“Washington and Lee University student Michael McGuire shared a personal anecdote illustrating the difficulties reporters face in presenting themselves as unbiased to sources and community members — difficulties that are heightened when the papers they work for endorse one candidate or political party over another,” wrote Kristina Ackermann in E & P.
The op-ed editor at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland disagrees.
“No one knows the ins and outs of politics quite like the editorial staff of a newspaper — especially on local matters — so the paper has a responsibility to share that knowledge with community members and help voters make an informed decision,” she said.
The Oregonian newspaper has announced it will not endorse a presidential candidate this year. Why? It realized it has no more knowledge of the presidential candidates than the average person on the street.
“Our CNN-level view of the presidential race is similar to everyone else’s,” the paper noted in an editorial.
It is an interesting question since newspapers work hard to claim neutrality on the people and subjects they cover. But can they? In reality, many candidates funnel huge amounts of advertising to newspapers. There is an almost built-in conflict of receiving money from a candidate and then determining which one to endorse.
After all, other news organizations such as TV and radio stations do not endorse the candidates they cover.
As an example, it is an absolute given that the Kansas City Star will endorse Barack Obama for President again. It is also 00% certain that the McClatchy-owned newspaper will endorse Claire McCaskill in her Senate race. There is no doubt.
Knowing that situation with those two candidates, can the newspaper realistically balance its reporting?
If you are reporting on those two races as a journalist will you consciously—or even subconsciously—favor the candidate your employer is endorsing? As an editor will you “clean up” stories that might shed a negative light on a candidate your newspaper supports?
Years ago, a Star reporter relayed that he saw his unflattering story in a major political race get “spiked” (killed) because it would have severely damaged the candidate his paper was planning to endorse. How could the journalist break a potentially game-changing story about a candidate his paper was endorsing?
Newspapers have changed dramatically over the years when many had actual political party names as part of their name (ie Sedalia Democrat) and were openly biased toward one political party or another. Over the years most moved away from outward political bias. Many newspaper editors feel having the power to endorse one candidate over another gives them king-maker powers.
However, realistically, in the newspaper environment today where layoffs and furloughs are the norm (see the Star’s latest layoffs this week) a reporter certainly does not want to come across to his/her executive staffers as not being a “team” player.
Also, many newspapers such as the Star have closed offices in many communities. Their ties to the community are so remote that some newspapers actually outsource their coverage of communities to writers in India. How can they justify telling people who to vote for when they have such limited knowledge of officials in those areas?
Sadly, there are not many journalism jobs today. If you have one you want to keep it and going against your bosses is not the way to do it. Journalism today is big business and not operated very differently than AT&T or Exxon.
A recent Gallup Study clearly shows that people have a huge distrust of the media.
In 2012, if newspapers are to continue to be relevant and portray themselves as unbiased providers of news, this might be the ideal time for them to get out of the endorsement business.