Once key, editorial endorsements of US newspapers are fading


NEW YORK (AP) — Newspaper endorsements are fading as a prize to be won by political campaigns, the practice falling victim to both the news industry issues and the bitter politics of the time.

Earlier this month, newspapers were checking by Alden Global Capital said they would no longer support presidential, gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates. The hedge fund’s portfolio newspapers include dozens of daily newspapers like the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Boston Herald, Orlando Sentinel and San Jose Mercury News.

They are not alone. The days when a major endorsement would quickly wind up in a campaign ad or voters cut out an editorial to take away from the voting booth seem destined for history.

“I think you can argue in many cases that they’ve lost their usefulness due to increased polarization and skepticism in the media in general,” said Carol Hunter, editor-in-chief of the Des Moines Register. “I don’t think it’s a healthy trend. But I think that’s the reality.

Despite the best efforts of news outlets to craft compelling endorsements, there have always been questions about whether these arguments hold much sway, especially in high-level racing.

At no time has this been more evident than in 2016, when 57 of top newspapers endorsed Hillary Clinton and two chose Donald Trump, according to the U.S. Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “None of the above,” with five, did better than the eventual president.

At a time when newspapers are looking for readers, leaders wonder if they shouldn’t care.

“Choosing a candidate in this environment may alienate more readers than it persuades,” wrote the New York Daily News in announcing the new policy, meaning the tabloid will abstain. governor’s race between Democrat Kathy Hochul and Republican Lee Zeldin.

Of the nation’s 100 largest newspapers by circulation, 92 endorsed a presidential candidate in 2008. In 2020, only 54 made a choice, according to UCSB. There is no such reliable accounting in small races. But given that there are 2,500 fewer newspapers in the United States than there were in 2005, it stands to reason that there are far fewer mentions.

That absence “is another loss to grassroots democracy,” said Northwestern University professor Penelope Muse Abernathy, who lists the decline of local news.

In an era of unpopularity for the press, many people don’t like being told what to do, said Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at the Poynter Institute.

For the papers, “there’s a bit of ‘don’t move the boat’ there,” Edmonds said. “There are ways to be respectful in a formal editorial. Make your point, but not in a condescending or dismissive way. »

In an internal memo earlier this year, executives at the Gannett newspaper chain noted that editorials were frequently cited as the reason people were canceling subscriptions. Surveys found that opinion pages were among the least read content and were linked to credibility and trust issues.

Some readers have trouble distinguishing between news and opinion, or don’t believe at all that a newspaper’s editorial stance doesn’t affect its news coverage, said Hunter, whose newspaper Iowa is property of Gannett.

Gannett did not ban political endorsements, but strongly advised his more than 220 newspapers to curtail national opinion and focus on local issues. The Des Moines Register’s opinion pages, for example, now run twice a week. The Register is selective in its choices this fall, weighing in on the Iowa gubernatorial race and a gun referendum. But the state’s largest newspaper will not endorse federal races, including U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley’s bid for an eighth term.

Nor did the McClatchy newspaper chain ban presidential mentions. But he said newspapers would not make picks in races where their editors could not interview candidates, which would effectively exclude them from presidential endorsements.

One of his newspapers, the Charlotte Observer, said he would do endorsements in “competitive and noteworthy” races where he could conduct extensive research and interviews, wrote Opinion Editor Peter St. Onge. North Carolina, in a column.

Many news outlets simply have fewer staff to do the job. Sixty percent of journalists working at newspapers in the United States have lost their jobs since 2005, Abernathy said.

Staffing is indeed an issue at the registry, Hunter said. The paper is unable to cover the state’s federal delegation as it previously did and wants to devote resources to local news, she said.

Many politicians view the waning state of endorsements with a collective shrug. News outlets were once seen as objective, but Republican consultant Alex Conant said many voters his candidates are trying to reach see newspapers as partisan as politicians.

“Editorial boards used to be an important validator,” Conant said. “But they’re not as important anymore.”

When leading Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign in 2016, Conant encouraged his client to meet with the editorial board of The Register, the dominant newspaper in the crucial state of Iowa.

If Rubio ran for president now, Conant said, he wouldn’t care.

Hunter said it has not been decided whether the register will approve anyone running for president of the 2024 caucuses. Much will depend on access to candidates, she said.

In the book “News Hole”, Jennifer Lawless, a professor at the University of Virginia, and Daniel Hayes, of George Washington University, show how candidates for Congress receive much less media coverage than before.

This is also the case for many elections further down the ballot, for local judge or school board, where endorsements had been one of the few places to find out more about the candidates. In many cases, those races are now nationalized: voters must assess candidates as extensions of national parties rather than neighbors, Abernathy said.

Ads — often filled with misinformation — are becoming the main source of information, she said. By contrast, US Presidency project co-director John Woolley said newspaper mentions “are a good thing in that they model the way of thinking and make it clear to people what the big issues are.” .

“I still think it does,” he said, “and I don’t think we can have too much of that in our lives.”

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