Editorial: Why papers endorse

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 7, 2006

The first and foremost reason why newspapers make endorsements of political candidates is democracy.

Western civilization historically relies on debate to discern its conclusions. Call it what you want &8212; argument, dialogue, discussion, talk, discourse, parley, confabulation &8212; it helps thinkers get at the heart of a matter. Democracy benefits from freedom of speech.

Voters are best-served when they engage in the dialogue. They get to know candidates, get to know how they stand and get to know what their friends and neighbors say.

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Newspaper endorsements provide a valuable perspective voters won&8217;t find anywhere else. In a sea of campaign mud, newspaper endorsements often are an island of reason.

Most mass communication that goes on during campaign season comes from people who knew early on which candidates they supported. Think about this:

Some people root for candidates based on which party they belong to. It is as if they were cheering for a professional sports team. For these people, the issues don&8217;t matter so much as the success of the party.

Some people support candidates because they know them, for issues the supported candidates favor or because their friends and family like them.

And naturally many others are honestly trying to hear both sides and come to a conclusion.

The third group &8212; the people doing most of the listening &8212; are hearing from the first two types. Many of the first two types will say most anything to help their side. It can come in the form of mudslinging TV ads or low-class fliers in the mail. The dialogue breaks down.

Newspaper editorial boards, on the other hand, do a whole lot of listening before they offer endorsements. They offer well-researched opinions.

We sit down and talk with the candidates. We ask around the community. We rely on our familiarity with news. We debate with ourselves, too. The board reaches a consensus, and we are never driven by party or money. Ultimately, the Editorial Board&8217;s goal &8212; at the Tribune and at every newspaper &8212; is to endorse the best candidate for the job. It&8217;s as simple as that.

People allege endorsements have an impact but there&8217;s little research to prove that. (Research shows friends and family influence votes the most.)

Political analysts say endorsements have little effect on the outcome. What&8217;s known about them, the analysts say, is this: The endorsements create dialogue.

And that&8217;s fine.

Because that&8217;s what they are for.