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La Grande Observer 12/22/14

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Endorsing candidates or issues has been a tradition every election season for newspapers. Papers such as The Observer have put together editorial boards that gather for what seems like hours and hours, asking candidates numerous questions.

IF A CONTESTED race has more than two candidates, then the process can become even lengthier. Herding the candidates into a conference room or an office can create an atmosphere that can become charged if the candidate believes he or she is not being considered for the endorsement. It is a process that at times seems antiquated.

Why do newspapers often go it alone, while television and radio stations shy away from the endorsement process? Yet, as candidates in larger markets perceive that they can hand-feed the voters selected tidbits of information about themselves or against opponents, television has procured a larger and larger amount of the candidates' advertising.

IN SOME PROMINENT races such as the governor's race or federal legislative races, candidates openly admit that they will spend all their money on television ads, direct mail pieces, billboards and lawn signs, not in the newspaper. The question needs to be asked: why do newspapers continue to fill their pages with countless articles about races and candidates who won't spend a dime with them and yet often beg for their endorsement?

One answer may be that newspapers still consider themselves holding the torch of true journalism. As old-time newspaper people see it, journalism involves interviewing and digging out information about each candidate and then writing a news story outlining who the person is and what he or she stands for, while on the opinion page telling the reader why one candidate is better than the other.

AS MOLDERS of public opinion, newspapers help to define the path for a community in recommending who should be its political leaders. If history teaches us anything about this subject, it is that only about half the time do those endorsed win the race. So perhaps our friends in the television and radio media are right. Milk the election for every dime they can get out of it and then avoid the endorsement trail like crazy. But if newspapers didn't endorse candidates, what would candidates put on their television ads or in their direct-mail pieces?

We are finding that more and more newspapers are deciding not to endorse or are limiting their endorsements to a few selected campaigns.

Perhaps if candidates are less willing to spend their campaign dollars equally among the media, then eventually we will see the practice of newspapers endorsing candidates go away. That would be unfortunate for the communities that we serve.


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