, Gloucester, MA


April 27, 2013

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? To endorse or not

Tuesday’s primary elections in our second special U.S. Senate race over the last three years has once again extended our campaign season. And that has also extended an interesting rite of our campaign coverage — the endorsement season.

But the choice of whether newspapers and other media outlets should endorse candidates for primary races has long been an interesting topic in many newsrooms, including ours here at the Times.

For years, many newspapers, especially community newspapers, tended to shy away from endorsing candidates in primaries, and the logic went something like this: While the local paper would endorse candidates in the general elections, whether it be for U.S. senator, governor, state representative and Senate seats, or local mayor or city council slots, they would leave it up to the leaders or members of the major parties to choose the candidates on their own.

I will tell you, however, that there was often a more practical, in-house reason as well. If a newspaper endorsed candidate A in the Democratic primary, and Candidate B blew Candidate A right out of the water, how could the same paper then turn around and endorse Candidate B in the general election? In short, it could either make the general election endorsements moot. And I often thought some editors and publishers were essentially afraid to make those calls.

To be honest, I haven’t always subscribed to that theory. I believe that, if a newspaper is going to be endorsing candidates in a general election, it should raise the issues at hand and note the candidates’ stands while stepping out and presenting endorsements in the primaries as well.

They are, after all, important decisions for voters — and, in Massachusetts, both parties’ choices are left not just to party insiders, but open to unaffiliated voters as well. Also, there can be times when a primary race can truly decide the general election — sometimes literally, as was the case here in 2008. That’s when both attorney Ann-Margaret Ferrante and former Gloucester city councilor Astrid afKlinteberg both challenged seven-term state Rep. Anthony Verga, without a Republican on the opposite ballot. Ferrante, of course, won the Democratic primary and the seat on that same September night, given that she was unopposed in the November general election.

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