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Informing, not advising

Voter Guide: The Enterprise recommends ... no one.

November 3, 2012
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

The Enterprise is not endorsing any candidate in this year's general election. Sometimes we do; sometimes we don't. Often we do in some races and don't in others. This time we're taking a pass across the board.

We usually endorse when we feel strongly that one candidate is better for the job. This time around, we can't agree firmly enough to tell you whom to vote for. We feel like we're on strong footing as informers but not as advisors.

This newspaper's staff has invested a huge amount of energy and money into informing you as a voter this year. Now, as it comes down to crunch time and we know a ton about each candidate, we find ourselves uncomfortable giving advice on whom to choose. Call it what you will, but we just don't want to open that can of worms this time.

As someone who buys the paper (hopefully, although some read it for free online), you're willing to pay for information about your voting options, but are you paying for someone to tell you whom to vote for? Probably not.

You're smart; you'll make just as good a decision without our recommendation as you would with it.

We're sure this editorial will make some of you relieved to have one fewer entity telling you how to vote. And we're sure others will see it as a cop-out, since daily newspapers often do endorse candidates in their editorials.

Often, yes, but not always. Look at Editor & Publisher magazine's website tracking presidential endorsements (www.editorandpublisher.com/election), and you'll find tons of newspapers around the U.S. that have announced they aren't supporting a candidate for the nation's top job.

If you'll indulge us, a quick reminder of newspaper political history would be useful here.

Fairness has been a hallmark of every respectable daily paper's news coverage for many decades, but that wasn't always the case. Nineteenth-century newspapers, in general, were rabidly partisan and molded their reporting to the service of their politics. Balanced, unbiased, objective journalism is a 20th-century product.

This shift was largely a business move. Nineteenth-century papers got a chunk of their revenue through party coffers and government printing and PR contracts, but that changed as reformers drained much of the unethical swamp. In the 20th century, it became more in a newspaper's fiscal interest to command more of the market, not just readers who shared its politics, so they developed a news product that, hopefully, everyone could find acceptable. This made knowing the truth much easier for the average person; before, one had to piece together a bunch of different biased sources. It also, by the way, gradually led to a slew of newspaper mergers and the emergence of one-paper cities and towns, since there was less demand for advocacy journalism.

Editorials, however, survived. Newspapers, as institutions, still have opinions and express them daily, even if they're not quite as fiery as they were in the old days. But now the editorial is such a small part of the overall newspaper experience that a reader who disagrees with the paper's positions has little reason to cancel his or her subscription.

The Enterprise, which began in 1894, is no 19th-century paper these days. It's decidedly nonpartisan; our editorials sometimes lean conservative, sometimes liberal, often moderate. We make sure it stays local, independent and reader-oriented.

People often assume we're constantly harassed about our editorials. There's actually not as much blowback as you might think. The anonymous online comments are probably more negative than positive, but the personal comments tend to be more positive than negative.

Endorsement editorials, however, are more thankless than most. People tend to see voting as a very personal, private act, and when someone they've long trusted, like a newspaper, tells them how to vote, many people get irked. Some folks go so far as to be astonished at the very idea of a newspaper picking a candidate.

"How can you say you're unbiased if you choose a candidate?" they say, outraged. We do our best to explain the difference between unbiased news and editorial opinions, and that papers have endorsed candidates since time out of mind, but still, the nerve has been struck.

We're curious to hear, this time, how many of you tell us we should have endorsed and how many tell us they're glad we didn't. That will help us decide whether to do so in future elections.

 
 

 

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