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Newspapers weigh perception, effectiveness of political endorsements

Oct 21, 2014

Credit User: Valerie Everett / Flickr

 

Newspaper endorsements are one of America's time-honored election traditions.

But as the winds of change blow through newsrooms across the nation, that tradition is changing.  

Anna Clark wrote about this for the Columbia Journalism Review. She says some major newspapers have stopped making endorsements since the trend started around 2009.

According to Clark, some newspapers are concerned about the risk endorsements may pose to their credibility. Others cited doubts about whether endorsements actually affect election results. 

In some cases though, Clark says newspaper endorsements do matter. Research shows they are most effective for local races, such as school board and state supreme court elections. For major races, research finds newspapers have more impact when they pick the candidates who are "unexpected" by the readers. 

Beyond that, however, newspaper endorsements for statewide or national races don't tend to move as many votes as they'd like to.

Yet, some think that it would be irresponsible for editorial boards to be silent and not take a stand. Clark says that's why some papers have left themselves "a little wiggle room." For example, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which stopped endorsements in 2012, has said that it would weigh in on "rare and pivotal elections." 

And, some are changing their minds. Chicago Sun-Times stopped endorsing candidates in 2012. But just last week, they announced they are going to endorse after all. 

News organization are also exploring new approaches. Michigan's MLive is an example. Besides making endorsements in statewide races, the outlet collaborated with Michigan Radio and Bridge magazine and hosted a "2014 Ballot Bash" – a series of public events to stage editorial interviews with candidates outside their offices. 

"They are taking an interesting task and trying to bring more participation into their own endorsement process, livening up a traditional form," says Clark.

* Listen to our conversation with Anna Clark above.