Rogers: A hiatus from endorsements
Having edited papers with and without endorsements — bringing the practice to a couple, including the Vail Daily — I appreciate papers weighing in from their unique vantage on politics and governance.
I enjoyed reading the two endorsements so far in the competition, their editorial board’s thoughtful considerations of the candidacies for sheriff and Pitkin County commissioner.
So long as you don’t take newspaper endorsements as edicts, they’re fine. Just like ones from the special interests and community leaders. So much food for thought, like stories and questionnaires and campaign literature, each a bite, not the whole meal.
Besides, newspaper endorsements don’t necessarily match election results. The evidence suggests there isn’t a whole lot of correlation. I know we’ve looked like geniuses picking all the winners some years, and, well, the other end of the donkey when nearly our whole slate lost.
But we’re not betting here. We make our best recommendations based on observing civic leadership a bit closer and more consistently than most.
Voters will make up their own minds, of course. Wiser and more serious ones do give newspaper endorsements consideration even if they wind up disagreeing. That’s what I tell myself, anyway, understanding that wisdom isn’t exactly a hallmark of humanity.
More and more papers follow an entirely different school of thought and refuse to endorse candidates or positions. I just came from one where that has been the tradition from the beginning, I was told. The beginning being 1864, I’m not sure I buy it. But we held to that course in a politically fractious community — way left and way right, and not much in between.
The core idea is that the journalists’ job is to report as fairly and objectively as possible, and doing endorsements contaminates that high calling in the minds of readers.
The notion of having a responsibility in the opinion section to make recommendations from our window seat is flat rejected. The nuance of recommending choices vs. telling people how they’re supposed to vote simply has been lost, this argument goes.
And who will then believe news stories about the chosen candidate vs. the stiffed one? The newspaper’s credibility is bruised at best, if not lost entirely.
That’s the logic. But that’s not why we’re going without endorsements this cycle.
RIGHT THING TO DO
I believe in doing endorsements when you can do them right. That is, I could huddle quickly with the publisher and another editor and bang ‘em out. They’d be thoughtful, thought-provoking, and reasonably thought through, I’m sure. Plenty of papers still do them exactly this way. I did them that way once.
In Vail in 2008, younger staff, worried that the old goats of the time might endorse John McCain (a consideration until Sarah Palin), made an elegant proposal: Let’s only endorse candidates when we can interview them in person, together. Same with ballot measures. We have to meet with supporters and any opponents before we recommend a position.
Well, it made so much sense even the old goats readily agreed, and so that was how we did it from then on. I thought it worked great. Even when the school district pulled a bunch of advertising because we wouldn’t support their lame tax without real purpose. I know exactly how much because I was the publisher then. And, yes, we supported their initiatives when we saw they were well thought out. I’m pleased to say in each case the voters agreed with us.
Grass Valley, when I arrived in 2016, had taken the community part of the editorial board to a whole new level under my predecessor and friend, Jim Hemig. I kind of wished I’d thought of it.
So we ran with a baker’s dozen of people from the community ranging across the full conservative-progressive spectrum, high-schoolers to retirees, and range of interests fitting the area, cannabis growing to fire protection to … housing. Always housing.
The board met every other week in person until COVID struck and then carried on exclusively through email until only recently.
They demonstrated that civic discourse is more than possible even as they wrangled sometimes sharply over the issues we would write about that week.
Which reminds me, why duck endorsements while weighing in on everything else? What makes endorsements so different? In this light, seems these papers are just ducking.
We’re ducking this round, and editorials generally for now, too. But I expect us to build a full board — this community feels like a great fit — and get into a weekly pattern of editorials soon enough, along with some robust endorsement interviews and decisions with the group I’m envisioning.
Progress at the paper, as I approach my three-month mark, has gone ahead of my expectations, though I understand how tenuous our purchase is and very much the challenge ahead. So I proceed methodically for my part, happy for progress, and ready for inevitable setbacks in the mode of running ultramarathons or those endless hours long ago scratching at big wildfires till we caught them. So first things first, but with a sense of what comes next.
I believe in endorsements, but I’m also mindful that the practice cuts against the grain these days. Alden Capital just ordered all their 200 or so papers to stop, including The Denver Post after this election. Gannett and McClatchy also have backed off — foolishly, I think.
Wisdom, it seems, runs in short supply in my biz, too.
Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at email@example.com.