Editorial endorsements: a mainstay of the old newspaper media and partisan press or a valuable public service that leverages the knowledge and expertise of those well informed?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of media bias – and I have a bias, we all do -, elections coverage, and how I best serve the public interest as Hamilton’s local journalist.
Before I continue further, I invite you to read an informative blog post by former editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina John L. Robinson entitled Why editorial endorsements matter
Robinson’s post heavily influences the structure of my piece which you are about to read. His 37 years of newspapers experience is evident in the concise clear arguments he advances in favour of newspaper endorsements.
Robinson’s arguments changed my thoughts on newspaper endorsements, and are making me consider what I will decide in the future as I (hopefully) expand from an independent journalist to being part of a new media non-profit media outlet I hope to form over the coming years.
Do I Endorse? Do I Reveal How I Vote? Is That An Endorsement?
I spent much time considering if I would write an endorsement column this election. Each one of us has a responsibility to decide how we will vote in our municipal election.
In the past, I’ve wrote columns assessing the field of candidates and made an endorsement of the candidate I voted for. I did so when I wrote a column for The Silhouette, I did so prior to becoming a journalist when in 2006, I endorsed Fred Eisenberger soon after he declared his candidacy.
As I wasn’t writing as a columnist in 2010, I did not make any endorsement.
Today, I’m an independent journalist who values transparency with my readers. I also value individual privacy – including my own.
We are all entitled to the secret ballot, and I support those journalists who do not reveal how that vote in protection of individual privacy.
I do not support journalists who don’t vote – either by not attending the polls or leaving their ballots blank in a claim of false neutrality.
We, citizens, are called on to make a decision to choose one candidate for each office. It’s a difficult decision, one that requires us to get informed.
Yes, we vote from our bias. I vote from my bias. I’m informed, journalists have the advantage of being paid to be informed and engaged.
I voted two weeks ago at advance polls. I had to make a difficult decision – there are many qualified candidates on the ballot. I only get to choose one.
Regardless of who wins, I have to work with the winner.
Which brings me to the question: Do I reveal how I vote?
Revealing who I voted for – after we all vote.
I will reveal the three candidates I voted for.
Why? I think it’s a important measure of transparency, especially because I’m the cook, server, and chief bottle washer of my media outlet. It gives you the opportunity to see if my coverage has been fair.
I have a great deal of influence in how civic affairs are covered. Often, I’m the only one covering and other outlets rely upon my videos as the basis for their coverage.
This influence must be exercised responsibly and this is why I’ve thought much about how I would cover this election.
Because of my model of providing full video of election debates and the announcements I could attend, I’ve removed the opportunity afforded to journalists to filter information based upon a difficult judgement call of newsworthiness. I’m sure – based upon my vote – there will be those who will stated I was unfairly bias towards or against a candidate.
My vote reflects what I learned during the election. It did not guide my coverage. My votes changed during the election due to the hard work of other candidates.
I don’t want my vote to be seen as an endorsement guiding how others will vote.
This campaign taught me a lot.
I discussed the Ward 1 Candidates Debate with many friends during the election. I had my personal opinion of how the candidates performed at the debate. Each person – all of them significantly engaged and informed – had a different assessment than my own. It was fascinating to compare my viewpoint against others.
This reinforced my own decision to be not write commentary during the election.
I have one vote, you have one vote.
There are many good choices on the ballot, and I do not want my vote to influence others to not choose the other good candidates – especially for School Board Trustee where we in Ward 2 have to choose between four good candidates.
I’ll reveal my vote shortly before the polls close on Monday.
The Value and Importance of News Organization Endorsements
Back to Robinson’s column. Robinson makes a valid point: “It’s difficult for many civic-minded people to keep up with everything.” Another point I found convincing [newspaper] “editorial pages take positions on community issues every day. Come election time, they pull their punch? How is that responsible or helpful?”
Robinson’s writing made me rethink my opposition to editorial endorsements. He is correct – there is public benefit to proper news organization editorial pages and even to endorsements.
I don’t agree with the present format in which a group of newspaper editors gather to decide upon an endorsement with one editorial in favour. A better public service is to have multiple viewpoints expressed for readers to decide from.
There is no need for Mayoral endorsements – there is plenty of coverage for readers to decide from. There could be use in editorials for Council races and especially for Trustee races. Of course, this would require media organization to actually cover Council and Trustee races. Robinson made this point in his piece when he called on newspapers to “EXPAND” their coverage and their editorial pages.
Now I think to the future in the hopes of growing my work into a local media outlet with the capability and resources to provide even more coverage and analysis.
It would be a public disservice for me to endorse as an individual, without providing a lively forum for numerous viewpoints.
My resources are best used as I did this election – providing as much information as position, including school board trustee races.
In terms of better shorter analysis, I’m working on that. I didn’t have the resources to edit video in real-time. I’m about to crowd fund to buy the equipment and tools I need to do video better and produce more concise coverage.
Analysis is important, news judgment is important. We are all busy. I want to do more to help you stay informed.
I’m grateful for the privilege I’ve had covering the races and honoured by your trust.
Here’s my election night post: How I voted in the 2014 Municipal Election