The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

October 20, 2008
Are newspaper endorsements "dinosaurs"? Or a heritage worth keeping?
CC_DINOSAUR_WIDE.JPGThe Swarm last week blogged on how congressional candidate Tom McClintock was balking at meeting with The Bee's editorial board for an endorsement interview. The item drew a number of comments, including this one from "csicathy," who wrote:

Newspaper "endorsements" are so irrelevant today, so predictible, so utterly lacking in credibility, why would McClintock waste his time? Time to pull the plug on this dinosaur called "editorial board."
As it turned out, after we published our blog item, McClintock's campaign quickly arranged an interview with our editorial board dinosaur. That made us feel more relevant. Even so, csicathy's item touched a nerve. At a time when newspapers are struggling and voters have so many options for information on candidates, do newspaper editorials really matter?

Some media watchers say "yes," depending on the contest and the location of the newspaper. In a column in Editor & Publisher, Greg Mitchell suggests that newspaper endorsements in Ohio might have helped George Bush in 2004 edge out a narrow victory there, which returned Bush to the White House.

Others are more skeptical. In a column in American Journalism Review in 2004, Tim Porter, a former assistant managing editor for the San Francisco Examiner, concluded there's scant evidence that newspaper editorials influence many votes (outside of local races) and that many papers endorse for president out of vanity, or merely to stir debate.

In the current campaign, Obama has a huge margin in newspaper endorsements, 112-39, as of Monday. Does it matter? Perhaps. The Chicago Tribune endorsed him Sunday, the first time it has endorsed a Democrat for president. At the L.A. Times opinion pages, editor Jim Newton writes that he's been flooded with comments since the Times endorsed Obama on Sunday.

Over at the Knoxville News Sentinel, in Tennessee, the opinion pages recently asked readers if the paper should endorse in the presidential race. Responses were mixed. Many said no. And some questioned if the paper could make an informed choice without direct access to the candidates.

But one reader, bless his heart, had this to say:

Opinion is what the editorial page is for. If the (Knoxville) editorial board has an opinion on the election, please share it with your readers. I don't think that lack of direct access to the candidates is a valid argument. For goodness sakes, you surely know enough about the differences between Obama and McCain to have a preference. As for charges of bias, you're going to get that no matter what you do. So take advantage of your first amendment rights and take a stand, whatever it is.

So where do you stand? Should newspapers take a stand in presidential contests? Should they endorse in any races? And if not, why?

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About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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