I served as editor-in-chief of my college newspaper during the 2005-06 school year. The following year, my successor decided he’d had enough after the fall term, so I was brought back for the Spring 2007 semester. I spent some 18 months as the editor of a newspaper and not once was my paper forced to make a political endorsement.
Not that any newspaper really is. Still, it’s a strange tradition that carries on; the editorial board, hardly representative of any newsroom’s entire staff, gathers to decide which candidate their newspaper supports. It’s a process happening now and in the coming weeks in Minnesota. In fact, many of the state’s biggest publications have already endorsed Independent gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner.
I love everything about newspapers, even though I’m a Twitter-checking, iPad-toting, RSS Feed-reading information consumer. I started reading the Argus Leader (of Sioux Falls, SD) when I was around six years old. The Argus is notoriously conservative, as is most of South Dakota. If newspapers are influential, how is it someone who became a daily reader at such a young age would go on to become a big, stupid liberal like myself?
Because I didn’t care about the political leanings of the Argus Leader’s editorial board. I suspect very few people did or do. For all the good a newspaper provides a community, I think readers maintain an intellectual detachment, a blanket of skepticism and a take-it-with-a-grain-of-salt resolve. Endorsements aren’t influential. Endorsements are fodder for political ads and debates. The Duluth News Tribune will not persuade my vote this year. Will it persuade yours?
A few years ago, Froma Harrop penned a rather snide commentary for Rasmussen Reports, roundly supporting newspaper endorsements. Harrop argued — with a fair amount of evidence — that newspaper endorsements are most effective when they support candidates outside their perceived political affiliation. For example, when the staunchly conservative Chicago Tribune endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008, it was a big deal. Readers took notice. Readers were (probably) influenced.
“For newspapers, there’s something gratifying about these studies and surveys and even the arrows shot their way by bloggers and cable partisans,” Harrop wrote. “Go ahead and ‘diss’ the print journalists as pterodactyls of the ‘Mainstream Media’ … People still get hopped up over what they think.”
Apparently, he’s partially right, because here’s another blogger shooting arrows at the construct.
This year, selecting from the three Minnesota gubernatorial candidates is like choosing from an in-flight menu — go with whatever seems most palatable. I’m voting Horner and it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the newspaper endorsements. I’m happy he’s garnered the support of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Duluth News Tribune, the Fargo-Moorhead Forum, the Bemidji Pioneer and, seemingly, the Mankato Free Press, but that has nothing to do with my vote.
Do newspaper endorsements still matter? That all depends on how impressionable a voter is, I guess. Personally, I refuse to be influenced politically by something that prints comic strips, crossword puzzles and horoscopes.