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Monday, November 29, 2010

Newspaper Candidate Endorsements -- Practicing What Is Preached?

The Syracuse Post-Standard's candidate endorsements for the November elections gathered some criticisms--as they always do.  One set of endorsements in particular seemed a bit odd, taken as a group and viewed from the perspective of an emphasis on reform of the state's political process--the three State Senate picks, for Patty Ritchie, Andrew Russo, and John DeFrancisco (all Republicans). 

In an editorial previewing its forthcoming endorsements, and then again in response to one published criticism, the newspaper adamantly defended the practice of making endorsements.  And in the state senate case it also claimed that the endorsements were arrived at individually, and not from some general (but unargued for) desire to see the State Senate return to Republican control.

I think the paper has it right, that it should be in the endorsement business, that it has a responsibility to the community and to the political process to weigh in on such matters in its editorial pages.  But the validity of that argument prompts a further question that I don't think the paper has fully addressed, at least not to my knowledge.

This is the question of precisely how these endorsements are derived.  Although the public probably knows that the paper's top editors are involved in some way, I doubt that most people know the important details of this decision-making process.  But if these endorsements are appropriate and valuable because the newspaper is a public institution--even if it is not a government institution--then is it not also equally appropriate that the public knows how the decisions are made?  In other words, does the paper itself not need to do what it is currently calling out the Jordan-Elbridge School Board to do--be more communicative and transparent?  As it stands, the endorsements have a "black box" feel to them.

More specifically, what people might want to know is:

--Who exactly gets to participate in the decision-making?

--What is the process among those participating?

--Is there a vote taken, and if so, what is the threshold for making an endorsement?

--What is the role of the publisher and the ownership in the deliberations and the final decision?

Perhaps those questions have been answered before, but I cannot remember it.  If they were, then perhaps we would better appreciate the important recommendations that are being made.


Greg Munno said...

Great take Grant. Transparency is the key. By educating the public on how they make these endorsements, the editorial board would also be doing a service to the paper's own reporters, who are often seen as being responsible for the endorsements, when, in fact, they have nothing to do with it.

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