There are some hard things about putting out newspaper opinion pages, but none is harder than telling everybody that you changed your mind.

Last year, I wrote an editorial announcing that we would no longer endorse candidates, joining a growing number of newspapers across the country that are finding the practice out-of-date and misleading.

This year, I’m here to ask you to please disregard the previous announcement. We will, in fact, endorse candidates in the upcoming local election in Portland for mayor, city council and in the two referendum questions on the ballot.

What changed? There’s an easy answer: ownership.

This time last year, this newspaper was owned by S. Donald Sussman, who, incidentally, also was the single biggest donor to Democratic candidates in Maine and happened to be the husband of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democratic member of Congress.

This created a credibility tightrope that the newspaper had to walk for three years. Sussman never once picked up the phone to tell me what to write in an editorial (I repeat, never once), but people were watching us closely, looking for signs of bias. Regardless of how we decided to go in an endorsement, we would be accused of trying to tip the scales. Even our decision not to endorse was seen – by those who wanted to see it – as a scheme to pretend to be impartial while secretly trying to help our owner’s favorites.

Now we are owned by Reade Brower, who has no political entanglements of which I am aware. He owns four weekly papers in the midcoast, and he sees endorsements as a public service that we are duty-bound to perform. So we’re doing them.

That’s the easy answer.

There is a more complicated one, that has to do with the way newspapers work.

Editorials (“Our View”) are not signed because they are not the work of one person. They are credited to the Editorial Board, but at least at our newspaper, that doesn’t mean that they are the unanimous opinion of the board members.

Our board consists of Publisher Lisa DeSisto, Executive Editor Cliff Schechtman, Managing Editor Steve Greenlee, Scott Monroe, who is the managing editor of the Central Maine Newspapers, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Sarah Collins, Central Maine Newspapers Editorial Page Editor Ben Bragdon and me.

Collins, Bragdon and I write the editorials, and the board meets monthly to talk about policy issues, such as whether we should endorse candidates. The Editorial Board only discusses content that appears on the opinion pages. We never talk about news coverage.

At some other newspapers – and at this newspaper when it was under different management – the news executives on the Editorial Board would be part of the daily process of selecting topics and crafting opinions. But since Schechtman got here in 2011, that has not been the case. News is news, opinion is opinion, and in his view they should not mix.

But he has not been shy about expressing an opinion on one topic: endorsements. Like most news people, he hates them.

“When newspapers endorse one candidate over another, it brands that news organization as a partisan and hurts the credibility of its reporting,” Schechtman said. “It creates confusion for some readers who want a strict separation between news and opinion. And I agree with them.”

Schechtman’s opinion is shared by Greenlee and Monroe. Last year, Sussman’s political activities created enough weight for the majority of the board to go Schechtman’s way. This year, without the ownership conflict, the vote went the other way, over the objections of the three editors, who will not vote on endorsement decisions.

Were we wrong before and right now? Right then and wrong now? We’ll see, but I did learn a few things last year.

Nobody thought our position on endorsements made us look less biased.

Most people know the difference between news and opinion.

When the excitement at election time surges, opinion writers want to be in the middle of it, not watching from the sidelines. And that’s where the readers want us.

Here’s how endorsements work. We tell you who a majority of the board would vote for and why. That’s it.

They are not our predictions of who is going to win, or our attempt to control your vote. And any nice words you may see about a candidate on the editorial page won’t spill over to the other pages of the newspaper, before or after Election Day. Believe it or not.

I don’t expect that everyone will agree with this change of course – even our board wasn’t unanimous. But we aren’t looking to write opinions that everyone will agree with.

We will give you “Our View” and hope you give us yours.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @gregkesich

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