It’s almost the time of year when newspapers start announcing which candidates they will endorse in the upcoming election. We can make our announcement now: We’re not endorsing anybody.
It’s not that we don’t like any of the candidates who are running for office, or that we don’t think that elections are important.
But after a series of discussions among the members of our editorial board, we’ve decided that it’s not our job to tell you how to vote. We work for readers, not candidates. Our research tells us that readers don’t find endorsements to be valuable, and that some even find the practice insulting.
Editorial endorsements are a tradition from the 19th century, when American newspapers were affiliated with political parties. Those newspapers existed to affect the outcome of elections, not just to report on them. The news business changed, but although most newspapers have hung on to the tradition, we could not convince ourselves that hanging on made sense for us.
Some argue that an endorsement is a helpful piece of information for voters, whether they agree with the conclusion or not. But there are ways to convey information about someone seeking public office without creating that false impression that we are on that person’s team.
Some people say that a news organization, because of its access to candidates, is in a better position than the average voter to make a choice, but no voter has a shortage of information these days.
Others say we have a responsibility to take a stand. But naming a favorite is not necessarily taking a stand on principle – it can be an emotional response to a candidate’s personal qualities. Who do you like? Who do you trust? These are the kinds of questions that go into deciding who to support for public office.
And these newspapers face a perception challenge that we take seriously and that has contributed to our decision. Our owner, S. Donald Sussman, is a donor for Democratic candidates and causes. His wife, 1st Disrict Rep. Chellie Pingree, is a Democratic member of Congress.
It’s easy for the people whom we criticize to accuse us of being partisan. We understand that readers watch what we do to see whether we are trying to further our owner’s political goals or advance his wife’s career. We think that the quality of our reporting speaks for itself, but we are stepping out of the arena of political endorsements in part to tell our readers that our published opinions are not undercover political advertising.
We will continue to make endorsements on bond issues, people’s vetoes and other referendums. These are purely questions of policy that lend themselves to analysis of pros and cons. The campaigns behind them come together and disband, leaving behind a policy, not a person. We think we can weigh in on these issues without creating an impression of a political alliance that lingers after the election.
Our endorsement policy will change very little about what we publish on the opinion pages, even during election season. We will still look hard at the candidates and probe their ideas. We will tell you when we think that they are right and when we think that they are wrong, and we will tell them what we think they should do.
We’re just not going to tell you how to vote.
You, however, are free to tell us. Between now and Election Day, we will be running letters of endorsement for every office on the ballot, making extra room when it’s needed. We look forward to hearing what you have to say.