A newspaper’s job is not to tell people how to vote | Opinion

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The media giant that publishes USA todaythe Des Monks Register, the Detroit Free Press and about 250 other newspapers have some advice: Stop making mentions.

Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, wants its publications to break with the practice of endorsing presidential and legislative candidates.

According The Washington Posta committee of editors convened by Gannett made the recommendation in April to update a 2018 planning document that urged newspapers to “approve less, if at all” and said it was “time to get out presidential endorsements.

They won’t get any arguments from me. I have long been of the view that newspaper endorsements generally matter far less to voters than editors and publishers imagine, that it is not the role of news outlets to take sides in an election , and that only makes readers doubt their objectivity. and credibility.

In the buzz that followed Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Barack Obama’s 2007 presidential run, the Pew Research Center polled voters on the impact of potential endorsements by various celebrities and institutions.

Pew found that only 14% of voters said they would be more likely to support a candidate supported by their local newspaper, while an additional 14% said they would be less likely to support that candidate. The overwhelming majority, 69%, said the paper’s endorsement would have no bearing on their vote.

Americans’ confidence in the fairness and accuracy of news organizations is at or near an all-time low. A large majority of the public thinks the media is politically biased. What sense does it make for newspapers to reinforce these beliefs by proclaiming their loyalty to one side in a political campaign?

Inevitably, many readers will assume that if a newspaper endorses a candidate during an election campaign, it will bias its media coverage in favor of that candidate.

Admittedly, some newspapers (including the Boston Globe) maintain a strict separation between their information and opinion activities. But many do not have such a policy.

It is unreasonable to expect voters to know the inner workings of the newspaper(s) they read. And who is hiding behind the institutional voice that delivers the endorsements? “By itself, the statement ‘Our Journal supports…’ is remarkably ambiguous,” acknowledged the Columbia Journalism Review in 2017. Endorsements “may reflect the views of the editor alone, the opinion writer alone, a board of a few people, or a board of 16.

Some editorial boards include news editors; others may include unpaid community volunteers. Some approval decisions are dictated by a newspaper’s corporate owners; others are achieved without any contribution from the property. In short, when a newspaper says “We approve,” readers are unlikely to know who is speaking. No wonder they place so little weight on advice.

Ahead of the 2020 Massachusetts Democratic presidential primary, three Bay State newspapers (the Boston Herald, Lowell’s Sun and the Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise) endorsed Michael Bloomberg. Two papers (The Avocado of the Valley and Hampshire Daily Gazette) endorsed Bernie Sanders. The Lowell Sun endorsed Andrew Yang. The boston globe endorsed Elizabeth Warren. None backed Joe Biden, who easily won the primary.

In almost every election cycle, the same phenomenon recurs: newspapers defend their favorites and voters choose someone else. Why continue this exercise in vain?

Some newspapers have a long-standing policy against mentions. The Wall Street Journal last gave his imprimatur to a presidential candidate in 1928, when he endorsed Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover over New York Governor Al Smith.

A vote for Hoover, the newspaper said, was “the soundest proposition for those with a financial stake in the country.” But when the crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression made it clear that Hoover was not the right person for the job, the Log learned his lesson. He never again supported any candidate. “We don’t believe our company tells people how to vote,” said one Log editorial explained, in 1972.

In recent years, a number of articles have adopted the Journal’s approach. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Arizona Republic and the Cincinnati Applicant are among those who no longer endorse candidates. Other documents, including the Chicago Sun-Times and The Salt Lake Grandstandreorganized as nonprofits and are now prohibited by federal law from explicitly supporting or opposing candidates.

I think every newspaper should follow suit. There is no evidence that readers want newspapers to tell them who to vote for and considerable evidence that they do not.

Let the newspapers continue to interview candidates. Let them post transcripts or post the video of those conversations. Let them editorialize on the candidates’ proposals, their backgrounds and their political ideas. Let them publish the opinions of columnists from all political backgrounds.

But don’t tell readers who should get their vote. Politicians don’t approve of newspapers. It’s time the newspapers stopped supporting politicians.

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