Saturday, October 18, 2008

Should Readers Endorse Newspaper's Endorsements?

A screenshot from the Chicago Tribune's website endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama for President

With its first ever endorsement of a Democratic presidential candidate, the Chicago Tribune has broken tradition and possibly revitalized the importance of a publication's support. The paper is also undergoing a more literal face lift, which Michael Miner writes will produce a "leaner, cleaner" and more importantly, less expensive Tribune, and he wonders whether this new leaf turning is to secure financial interests for the "retooled" paper.

So why do editorial boards of papers pick a candidate? Editor and Publisher's current count has Obama with 101 newspaper endorsements to McCain's 32. Does picking a winner merely validate a paper's legitimacy or is the process more wholly rooted in a gut instinct and policy? Should this be allowed or is the tradition antiquated?

Author Richard Miller asks in the Fox Forum whether endorsements are professionally appropriate arguing that when editorial boards were among the most informed members of the electorate, they had a responsibility to lead, but since people now "know more," endorsements are irrelevant. He also argues that news is in the midst of a "credibility crisis" and endorsements merely "raise deep suspicion" that "the front page is actually the editorial page."

As asserted in this TIME piece, young news readers are suspicious of "traditional authority" but this inclination leads me to a different conclusion. Though we do favor transparency and straightforwardness, objectivity is overrated, especially with regards to an editorial page. Our skepticism allows us to ask questions and that seems sufficient. Papers aren't hoping to give the final word or change any minds. As the one-time editor of the NYT's editorial page, Howell Raines stressed the paper's obligation to be a part of the "civic dialogue." I welcome that notion.

As news readers, we are not and should not be scared of others' stances, whether they come from peers, edlers or institutions. Perhaps NYU professor Mitchell Stephens said it best:
''[O]pinion is a way of getting at the truth, and we tend to forget that sometimes in America. Sometimes you think that American journalism has gotten so opinionphobic that it has lost a tool that contributes to people's understanding.''

1 comment:

M. Dery said...

Intriguing meditation on the obsolescence (or not?) of the editorial endorsement. Not sure how the Trib's facelift relates; given the cramped wordspace, best to keep your eyes on the prize and avoid digressions that don't pay dividends. Questions: "So why do editorial boards of papers pick a candidate?" Why, indeed? If you're going to raise a question, Inquiring Minds want you to answer it. You don't, unless I missed it. Why is the practice "antiquated"? Isn't Fox just working the ref when it suggests that readers are wise enough to make their own decisions, thanks to the Web? (If that's so, why do an astonishing number of Americans believe in the Saddam-9/11 connection, or that Obama is a closet islamofascist?) When Miller says people "know more," what, exactly, does he mean? What do they know, and in what way is it "more" than their past knowledge, and what's the historical breakpoint between the past in which they knew something and the present in which they know something more? The Devil's Advocate in the back row argues that the "credibility crisis" is a figment of the right-wing imagination, the same imagination that conjures up the specter of a Vast Left-Wing Liberal-Media Conspiracy. Not true? Up to you, but I want to see more evidence in support of the Miller claim, if you're going to adduce it. Also, interesting point that editorial endorsements aren't intended to change minds but rather to catalyze "civic dialogue." But I'm curious to know, exactly, how an endorsement does that. Zingy kicker, BTW.