Sunday, May 25, 2008

How do newspapers endorse candidates?

I'm confused. I've read Amador Ledger-Dispatch Publisher Jack Mitchell's explanation of his support and future newspaper endorsement of David Pincus. I've also read Raheem Hosseini's column saying that Jack's endorsement isn't an endorsement from the paper.

Jack says that Ledger parent corporation Main Street Media isn't involved in the endorsement other than giving him authority to make it. But Raheem says the paper is subsidizing Pincus's ads. Confusing.

No one would dispute Jack's right to support the candidate of his choice. But how the paper endorses is a legitimate subject for public discussion.

So I thought it was worth looking into how most newspapers make political endorsements. As I thought, it appears that most newspaper political endorsements aren't made by the publisher acting alone. The endorsement processes vary, but what they have in common is the involvement of an editorial board. And they often include interviews with the candidates. That's clearly not the case with our local paper. At least not this spring.

Here's what a few newspapers and others have to say about political endorsements ...

Times Union (Albany, NY) editor's blog excerpt

So how do we make endorsements? The editorial board has seven members — the publisher, editor, opinion pages editor, editorial page editor, chief editorial writer, editor-at-large and editorial cartoonist — whose views may vary widely. Endorsements (and other editorials) are the result of discussion and debate among us.

Connecticut Post editor's statement (excerpt)

The editorial page essentially represents the institutional voice of a newspaper. It's a voice that speaks to the communities which we serve and tries, through our opinions on a wide variety of issues, to better those communities and their civic life.

There are six members of the Post's editorial board and each member has an equal vote in deciding issues, although the newspaper's publisher, as it is with nearly all newspapers in the U.S., can have more than a one vote if he so desires.

Board members don't sit in ivory towers and pontificate and pronounce. We are all active in the news product and in our own communities and we are interactive with our readers.

When we gather weekly to discuss issues, there can be swift unanimity on the editorial positions we take or there can be lengthy and passionate split votes and disagreements. That holds for political endorsements as well.

Our endorsements are not made with political bias, but with what the board members perceive would be best for our communities and state. We talk to the candidates, we research their records and we examine their leadership abilities

Here are reasons why we endorse:

  • to fulfill our obligation and responsibility as a constitutionally-protected media enterprise to not only be a part of our communities but to also help improve those communities.
  • to offer information and perspective that voters can use in evaluating candidates.
  • to create dialogue with our readers.

Our endorsements are not made:

  • to tell readers who they should vote for.
  • to make a compact with any candidate.
  • to figure out who's most likely to win a contest.
Houston Chronicle blog

Be that as it may, the Editorial Board (KE note: the board in this case includes all of the editorial staff plus the publisher) looks at the endorsement process as a public service to our readers. The process works like this: Several weeks before each Election Day (Nov. 8 in this case), we invite candidates vying for the various elected offices to meet with us. The purpose being to ask them questions about where they stand on issues germane to the office they're seeking. Doing so, provides us with insight regarding which candidate best will represent the interests of their constituents.

We don't endorse on a whim. Screening candidates and vetting propositions and constitutional amendments is an arduous, time-consuming and democratic process. We debate candidates and issues vigorously. Votes to endorse any particular candidate or proposition are seldom unanimous. Oftentimes, they are decided by a slim margin.

Ultimately, Publisher Jack Sweeney and Editor Jeff Cohen, have the final say. Fortunately, they rarely exert their power and usually accept the sentiment of the board and Editorial Page Editor James Howard Gibbons.

Concord Monitor (N.H) editor's column excerpt

The editorial board consists of Publisher Geordie Wilson, Executive Editor Felice Belman, Managing Editor Ari Richter, Editorial Page Editor Ralph Jimenez and me.

After every editorial board interview, some or all of us gathered to trade impressions.

Individually or in groups, we all attended some campaign events. I was probably the most active in this regard and used some of what I saw as the basis for columns in the paper. But time spent on the campaign trail helped all of us gain a sense of who the candidates were and how they were connecting with voters and honing their messages.

... Still, we don't sign our editorials because they represent the opinion of the Monitor as an institution, not the view of the writer or any particular editorial board member.

Excerpt from item by Richard Mial, opinion page editor of the La Crosse Tribune (Wisconsin)

That's where the structure of the process becomes important. Endorsement interviews are always done before as many members of our editorial board as can make it. Our board includes the opinion page editor, publisher, editor, city editor, news editor, and a community member who serves a three-month term. Interviews are taped, so that board members who could not attend can listen.

The board has some shared values, and these values influence the decision-making process. It's important to be clear about what those values are. We have what we call an agenda for the community, which is more like a mission statement that runs daily on the Opinion pages. The five items on the agenda: Encourage regional cooperation; spotlight the region as a diverse economic hub; hold public officials accountable; celebrate the arts and heritage of the region; and promote positive achievements and the value of diversity.

1 comment:

Frank said...

Katherine: They're picking on you. I have eaten at the restaurant you mention six times this year and it has always compared favorably with the Bay Area eateries I spent 30 years visiting. I have the body to show for it.