October 20, 2004

First Draft Recommends …

First, read my story in the current American Journalism review about why presidential endorsements have little, if any, impact on voters. Here’s a quote from Gail Collins, editorial page editor of the New York Times:

"I don't think anybody who has a job like mine is deluded that many people change their opinion about who they're going to vote for president when they see the Times editorial."

OK, now here are the usual news stories that appear every four years about newspaper endorsements:

 The endorsement horse race: Editor and Publisher is keeping score. Kerry’s got the lead.
 The paper that doesn’t endorse: Milwaukee paper makes news by doing nothing.
 The paper that does endorse, but changes its position: Tampa Tribune switches from Bush to None of the Above. (Here is Tampa’s editorial.)
 The one-hand-other-hand endorsement story: “Whether the endorsement has influence is another matter," said Scott Bosley, executive director of the Virginia-based American Society of Newspaper Editors.
 The endorsements-are-missing-the-real-point story: “Something's missing this election year from the presidential endorsements of newspapers: Any discussion about the issues most important to the work of newspapers.”
 Endorsements are hard, but worth it: The Freeport (Illinois) Journal Standard quotes my “compelling” AJR story.

I’d prefer that newspapers didn’t make endorsements. They confuse readers who don’t see the difference between the opinion and the news pages, and they presume a level of authoritativeness on the newspaper’s part that separates it from its readers.

For those papers who feel compelled to endorse, they should reconsider the format. The “we speak, you decide” construction of traditional editorial pages is out of date. At the least, endorsements should be accompanied by equal arguments for the opposing position.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, is endorsing Kerry, but doing so in a decidedly non-traditional manner. The paper is publishing 21 editorials, each on a different theme and each accompanied by a rebutting essay from a Bush supporter.

As for me, I’m taking my election cues from a different arena. If the lads from Boston finish off the Yankees tonight and earn a chance to reverse history in the World Series, I don’t see how that other underdog from Massachusetts can lose.

Posted by Tim Porter at October 20, 2004 07:46 AM

One thing that surprises me: The number of callers who ask about our endorsements. During election season (we vote early in Washington) I get several calls a day from readers who want our endorsement list or a question about a particular race.
Just this morning a reader said she couldn't fill out her ballot until she saw our complete list of endorsements.
I think this is particularly true for long-time readers and for local races (especially judges).

Posted by: Mark Trahant on October 20, 2004 01:02 PM
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