An argument for newspaper endorsements (again)

In preparation to vote in the primary, I spent part of this morning reading newspaper editorial endorsements. Oh, I’m pretty sure I know who I plan to vote for for president, but that’s not the only primary election on the ballot. I also can select a U.S. House member, Council of State candidates and judges. And I gotta tell you: I need help making an informed choice there.

That’s where the newspaper editorials come in. I’ve read my local paper and the editorial pages of other papers enough to know that they take thoughtful stands on the issues. I know that their writers have either interviewed the candidates and/or studied their positions and their track records. I know they deliberate over their endorsements because I’ve participated in some of them.

They take their endorsements seriously.

So, when I read this morning that the Arizona Republic editorial board announced it would no longer endorse candidates, I shook my head.

“Modern readers are changing how they get their news and what they expect from it. They’ve told us in focus groups, surveys and by their online reading habits that they want news and opinion more relevant to the way they live their lives. What they don’t want is another media kingmaker.”

OK, I can understand that in the presidential race; don’t agree with it, but understand it. But the ballot is filled with choices. Most every day — less often than before — editorial pages offer opinions on the issues to help readers sort through their own positions. Now a newspaper will do that on issues that affect readers’ lives, but stop short of helping them decide on candidates whose actions will certainly affect readers’ lives? Doesn’t make sense to me.

I tried to research down-ballot candidates without using editorials. Straight news coverage tended to deal primarily with biographical information and bland quotes on positions. Candidate websites were almost all general policy positions that everyone could agree on.

It becomes a guessing game. (Yes, I know the tired refrain: “I like endorsements because when you endorse someone I know to vote for the other guy.”)

And I’m a regular consumer of news. I pay attention. I want to be informed. Now, imagine people whose lives are filled with, well, the demands of life and don’t have much time to keep up with candidate positions. What do they do when they go into the election booth? How do they choose between this lawyer seeking a judgeship or that lawyer? This candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction who is a former teacher or the other who is a former teacher?

In a way, the Republic actually argues in favor of endorsements as they argue against it: “You need information to understand your community, to seize its opportunities and help solve its problems. In a democracy, newspapers are your eyes and ears on government, courts, police departments, public schools, anywhere the people’s business is conducted. The information we bring you is essential to holding your government accountable.”

Editorial pages want a robust discussion of the issues, and newspapers want a robust democracy. Endorsements aid that.