GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 27, 2013

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? To endorse or not

Why Did My Newspaper Do That?
Ray Lamont

---- — 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.

That’s not quite the case in this year’s Senate elections — though some would have us believe that, give Massachusetts’ voter registration rolls, the winner of the Democratic race matching two incumbent congressmen, Edward Markey and Stephen Lynch, will head into the June 25 general election with a significant advantage. Yet we will, as we have in the recent past, deliver endorsements for both parties in Monday’s Times.

Why, you might ask, is your community’s newspaper doing that?

Because we believe, just as in regular endorsements, we should raise some of the key issues at hand, particularly those that specifically impact Cape Ann, and engender more discussion of those issues, all of the candidates, and the importance of this election in general.

There are, of course, readers who don’t think newspapers or other media should make endorsements at all; who don’t like to be told how to vote. And when someone tells me that, my response is simple: that’s not what we’re doing.

I’ve always seen endorsements as having the same general role as editorials. They aren’t meant to flat-out tell people what to do, and endorsements aren’t meant to try to dictate to readers how to vote. They are, instead, meant to point out the issues, perhaps raise issues and questions for voters to consider, and provide those voters with information that can’t always be fairly emphasized in a straight news story.

That’s what we’ll be doing when we make our Senate endorsements in Monday’s Times. We hope you give them a look, and we especially hope you take the time to go to the polls Tuesday to vote.

As always, let me know what you think.

Questions? Comments? Is there a topic you’d like to see addressed in a future column? Contact Times Editor Ray Lamont at 978-283-7000, x3432, or at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.