Do Newspaper Presidential Endorsement Count?
By Skye Dent
Newspapers. Popular opinion would have you believe they‘re on their way to extinction. If you’re under 30, you don’t read em. 30 to 60? You’re working so many jobs, where’s the time?. 60 and up, your Social Security Check won’t stretch that far.
Yes, media literary has been incorporated into many middle school standards. But, by the end of high school, many of these students are I-Card carrying members of The Text Generation, a parallel universe where nouns and punctuation are as optional as bras were in the Sixties.
So, if Americans are not reading newspapers, do they even care about those more thoughtful pieces about Presidential candidates that include both information, provide opinions, and suggest who you should vote for in ways that range from pungent to provocative.
You know what I’m talking about. Editorials endorsements.
In recent weeks leading up to this week’s election, you’ve seen them on commercials, one-sheets advertisements, fliers invading your mailbox like pesky mosquitoes.
We can tell by TV commercial ads that the candidate who got the particular endorsement thinks his voters are swayed more by celebrities than journalists. The commercial starts. Surging towards you is something akin to the intro legend to every Star Wars movie. “Tampa Bay Times endorses President Obama. Steady economic progress. Sure-footed foreign policy.” “The Orlando Sentinel backs Governor Romney. Able, Tested Leader.”
Clearly, the campaigns of both President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney believe that newspaper political endorsements count.
Even if you don’t read the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, The Raleigh News and Observer, the Des Moine Register or the Fayetteville Observer, you know who they endorsed.
Well, kinda sorta. Actually, the Fayetteville Observer(founded in 1816) historically gives opinions on issues, but not candidates. On any level. Coming 13 years ago from a paper that did make endorsements, The Cape Cod Times, the FayOb’s editorial chief Tim White said he saw no reason to change history.
“It’s not a written policy,” White says, “It’s something that’s been handed down generation to generation.”
I researched the subject and found that an exception was made for Zebulon Baird Vance, a former Confederate military officer in the Civil War who won the North Carolina gubernatorial election in 1862 running on a platform promoting individual rights and local self-government.
White was unfamiliar with Vance, simply saying “When the ownership of the company says no, we’ve never endorse, that’s good enough for me.”
“Given the fact that many newspapers are getting out of the endorsement business and most research shows that endorsements have less effectiveness than ever, I don’t see us getting into it at this time.”
White believes that the times have finally caught up with The Observer. With so much media being thrown at citizens by TV, Cable, Radio, and The Internet, he believes that the impact and influence of a newspaper editorial is severely diminished and, in many cases unwanted.
“With so many people getting their information from the internet,” says White, “I don’t think it would matter even if we did endorse. I’m not sure how much of a positive force it would have on the election.”
Newspapers, say some, should print…news. Let us make up our own minds.
Although Orage Quarles III, the publisher of the Raleigh News & Observer certainly wants every individual to decide for his or herself, his position on endorsements is totally opposite to that of White’s.
“Newspapers,” Quarles says, “ are really well -suited to provide endorsements because we have the ability to vet candidates, the ability to do research.”
“And most of all, we have the ability to sit down face-to-face with candidates and understand their point of views. For these reasons, when we make an endorsement, it’s based on our belief that this is the best candidate for the position.”
My opinion merges the two. Yes, we are swamped by news and information from newspapers, other news sources, and the media. Not only more, but at a faster pace.
At 8:20 a.m. last week, I dashed to get coffee from my local BP, hoping to get back in time for the 8:30 a.m. announcement of the jobs growth.
I walked in the door at 8:31. Already the announcement of the 171,000 October jobs gain was being sliced, diced, and interpreted by a CNN batch of experts.
Never the less, In my mind, being barraged by news and information 24/7 is exactly the reason why we need newspaper editorial endorsements. They’re written by people who are trained to write and analyze the news. To editorial boards, media literary is an inherent way of life, not a required grade school class.
So what if the internet era has pitched newspaper circulation into steady declined in the last decade. Naysayers point out that from almost 47 million per day in 2004 to barely 40 million in 2011, according to the Newspaper Association of America. I say circulation has gone down only by seven million in the last seven years. Seven million people who do care about newspapers have to say.
Add that to the huge numbers of people who read newspaper articles taken for free and given away for free by internet aggregators like Google. And families like mine (I buy the hard copy. Give it to my mom when I’m finished. She gives it to my uncle Frankie when she’s finished. And by late afternoon, I can hear him reading sections out on the porch to anyone who wants to listen. Call it the first internet.)
In addition, traditional newspapers who have faced their fears and explored the new technology have found ways to monetize the internet.
“Print readership may be going down, but digital readership is going up. “ Quarles says. “And the combination of the two has resulted in our total readership being at an all-time high. That’s why we feel very comfortable with letting people know where we stand politically.”
But, even with that, we’re told readers won’t read the editorials. The space could be used for something readers want. Readers will put their money someplace else. It’s a marketing decision. Money is tight.
To which I say, if you’re going to make all of your journalism decision based on monetary goals, you’re in the wrong business. Newspapers were given freedom of the press so as to “inform the public so that it may govern.” The public. That’s you.
We’ve already seen situations in which wrongs are hidden for decades because journalists did not have the resources or money to investigate. If the news media starts abdicating its one First Amendment right drafted to protect our right to free speech, religion, petition and assembly, how long will it be before we lose all five.
That’s my opinion. I invite all of you to voice your opinion.
But, still, according to Bloomberg News, the New York Times ‘ endorsement of President Obama last Sunday was the most clicked on item on the paper’s website, in spite of Hurricane Sandy.