Endorsements: Why we won’t shy away from them
Saturday, the Summit Daily News will endorse candidates in the party primary races for sheriff and for county commissioner.Endorsing candidates is a responsibility we, as a newspaper, embrace. It is one of the time-honored roles of a community newspaper. And it’s not something we take lightly.It’s worth noting what an endorsement is not. It’s not an effort to handicap a race or predict who the winner will be.Its purpose is not to curry favor.Nor is it an effort to tell voters for whom they should vote, although many interpret endorsements that way.An endorsement is simply a newspaper, as a community institution, after careful research and analysis, outlining for readers whom it sees as the best candidate.
Throughout my career I’ve believed strongly that it is the role of a community newspaper to educate the electorate and to provide information necessary to help individual voters make well-informed decisions.Our process for endorsements is straightforward. Each candidate meets with the members of the newspaper’s editorial board, which is comprised of myself, editor Jim Pokrandt and advertising director David Mercier. In addition, a member of the news staff also sits in. We ask questions and the candidates answer them.All four candidates interviewed, Mike Phibbs and John Minor in the sheriff’s race and Barbara Crandall and Bill Wallace in the Commission 2 race, were engaging and forthcoming in their answers. There is no question that each of them is sincere in their desire to serve the community.Who we will endorse is not yet decided. And I doubt if there is complete agreement, but we’ll iron that out in the next day or so through a thorough discussion of the candidates and their comments.I find it sad that the Summit Daily News, among its brethren in the media, may one day find itself in the minority when it comes to endorsing candidates.A recent report indicated a record number of daily newspapers would refuse to endorse a candidate in the November presidential election. (As an aside, an indication of the age of the person who wrote the piece was indicated by the phrase “… these Garboesque fits of silence from newspapers.” While I especially enjoyed that turn of phrase, I couldn’t help but wonder how many would simply not understand a reference to a screen star from the last century.)The number of newspapers declining to make endorsements has climbed steadily over the decades. The newspaper industry began tracking endorsements in 1940, the year Wendell Wilkie tried vainly to deny Franklin Roosevelt a third term. In 1940, 87 percent of the country’s daily newspapers published endorsements. By 1996, only 69 percent wrote endorsement editorials in presidential elections. And a poll I saw not long ago showed that it’s likely that less than 55 percent will publish endorsements this fall.
The argument most newspapers cite in defending the decision not to endorse a candidate is they do not wish to appear biased.It’s sad that so many newspapers no longer endorse candidates, especially in local races. They have chosen to abrogate their responsibility to take a position largely for fear of offending someone. The fact is, every day we publish a newspaper we offend someone. Not purposefully, of course, but we live in a society where opinions matter and where there exists a polarization of opinion, which is a strength and a weakness.No doubt in some quarters we will be criticized for the choices we offer in the sheriff’s race and in the District 2 commission race. So be it. I’d rather be criticized for taking a stand than for not taking one.And as I said, the newspaper isn’t telling you how to cast your ballot, but saying whom we see as the best candidate.Whoever you choose as your candidate is your own business. When you step inside the voting booth, what should direct you are your conscience and your personal beliefs. Personally, when I cast my vote what I fear most is that someone who has not taken the time to understand the issues or the candidate is casting a vote of ignorance that will cancel my vote.Some of the most vocal criticism I’ve been pelted with in the past was for penning an editorial that strongly recommended if someone had not taken the time to understand the issues and a candidate’s or party’s platform, that we’d all be better served if that uninformed voter would simply stay home on election day.
Some suggested that my telling voters to stay away from the polls was “un-American.”As I said, when it comes to elections there’s not always agreement.I fully expect that some will see our endorsements as evidence that the newspaper is biased. We’re not. Whether you believe it or not, our approach to the news (which mirrors our approach to editorializing) is that we simply call ’em as we see ’em.As I’m apt to tell colleagues, what we do is pretty simple and “ain’t brain surgery.”Not choosing to endorse candidates only serves to diminish our credibility as a newspaper. Not endorsing is the easy way out, and we would not be serving Summit County if we chose to take the easy way out.Jim Morgan is publisherof the Summit Daily News. He can be reached at(970) 668-3998 ext. 240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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