The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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Editorials

October 26, 2012

Santori: Endorsements don’t fit with fairness objective, new media landscape

Four years ago, we adopted the policy of no longer providing endorsements. Most readers I heard from applauded the move. This year, we have some contentious issues on the state ballot and an extremely tight presidential race. Everyone is looking for an edge to their side and we’re getting challenged to take a side. We respectfully decline.

Let me recount our 2008 explanation on why we changed that policy:

When newspapers first came upon the scene in America, they were backed and, indeed, funded by political parties. The papers were staffed by party functionaries. There was no expectation of fairness or objectivity in news coverage; it was all opinion and slant.

It was only late into the 20th century that news organizations began to seriously look at what was happening to their craft. We were determined to improve people’s perception of our reporting.

News councils began to crop up. Journalism reviews grew in number. Ethics courses were included in journalism curricula. One huge mistake made during this time was to profess that journalists are objective and unbiased. No, journalists are human and have to work at being balanced and fair. But we still held onto one vestige of the old newspapers — or, it should be said, publishers did — endorsements. If these publishers were honest about it, it was a way of trying to influence the outcome.

Other people were under the impression that endorsements were given to whichever candidate took out the most advertising. When candidates then used those endorsements in their own political advertising, it just fueled that impression even more.

Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, blasted the practice of political endorsements in 2000, saying, “When newspapers endorse candidates editorially, their political coverage on the news pages becomes suspect in the eyes of readers, rightly or wrongly.” USA Today does not endorse candidates.

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