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Sun-Times won’t make political endorsements

Monday, Jan 23, 2012

* Today’s announcement by the Sun-Times editorial board came as a complete surprise to a whole lot of people

Seventy-one years ago, Mar­shall Field III founded this newspaper to create a bully pulpit, on the editorial page, for America’s entry into the war in Europe and for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s domestic agenda, the New Deal.

Somebody in the Midwest, Field believed, had to stand up and counter the isolationist and anti-Roosevelt fulminations of Col. Robert McCormick and his Chicago Tribune. […]

Those days are gone. Most good newspapers today attempt to appeal to the widest possible readership, including people of every political persuasion, by serving up the best and most unbiased news coverage possible. They want to inform you, not spin you.

With this in mind, the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board will approach election coverage in a new way. We will provide clear and accurate information about who the candidates are and where they stand on the issues most important to our city, our state and our country. We will post candidate questionnaires online. We will interview candidates in person and post the videos online. We will present side-by-side comparisons of the candidates’ views on the key issues. We will post assessments made by respected civic and professional groups, such as the Chicago Bar Association’s guide to judicial candidates.

What we will not do is endorse candidates. We have come to doubt the value of candidate endorsements by this newspaper or any newspaper, especially in a day when a multitude of information sources allow even a casual voter to be better informed than ever before.

Research on the matter suggests that editorial endorsements don’t change many votes, especially in higher-profile races. Another school of thought, however — often expressed by readers — is that candidate endorsements, more so than all other views on an editorial page, promote the perception of a hidden bias by a newspaper, from Page One to the sports pages.

In keeping with this effort to go the extra mile to reassure you of our commitment to nonpartisanship, we also have decided to extend to our senior management the journalist code of ethics ban on making contributions to political campaigns.

* As an outside (very low-paid) CS-T columnist, I’m not a member of the editorial board, so I wasn’t consulted. If I had been, I’m not quite sure what I would’ve said. I guess I can see both sides here. You endorse somebody (Rod Blagojevich, for instance) and then you carry the weight of that decision for years to come. On the other hand, might this not strengthen the Tribune’s influence over elections? Then again, newspaper endorsements haven’t meant much for several years now.

I don’t think any other daily newspaper in Illinois has ever made a decision like this. I doubt many will give up the perceived power and influence of their endorsements, but they’re fading anyway.

What do you think of this development?

- Posted by Rich Miller        


34 Comments
  1. - Dirt Digger - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 9:01 am:

    Good move. Editorial boards are not any more or less informed than the average mid-info voter. Their endorsements sometimes follow a pattern- in the case of the Tribune, one that is bitter, conservative and hostile to functional government. Other times they follow no rhyme or reason at all. In neither case do they add any additional information, or even clearly state why exactly they want one candidate over another.

    Neither of these models adds any value to representative government. They have a small value to their endorsed campaigns and their supporters, and perhaps a small boost to the ideologues in alignment with their opinions. It’s time for both groups to grow up and make their own cases to voters.


  2. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 9:01 am:

    Is this a cost-saving move?

    I think the decision may be a mistake for down-the-ballot races. There are a few races, like contested judicial primaries, where endorsements can make a difference. While it takes a lot of the editorial board’s time and effort, that’s what a newspaper is for.


  3. - wordslinger - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 9:08 am:

    I’ve never been persuaded by a newspaper endorsement. They’re fairly predictable at the top of the ballot. Down the ballot, they seem to phone it in.

    Still, it’s odd to see an edit board give up a perceived area of influence. That’s what edit boards do, persuade. Let’s see if it lasts beyond this cycle.


  4. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 9:09 am:

    Could it be that the new ownership of the SunTimes has views out of sync with their readership, so rather than ticking them off with endorsements, they’ll just abolish them?


  5. - LilLebowski - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 9:15 am:

    If I’m a campaign manager, why am I going to waste my candidates time by appearing before the Sun-Times’ editorial board, and possibly being asked a question I don’t want to answer, if there is no chance for an endorsement.


  6. - Mr. Mann - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 9:16 am:

    >>Could it be that the new ownership of the SunTimes has views out of sync with their readership, so rather than ticking them off with endorsements, they’ll just abolish them?


  7. - Kasich Walker, Jr. - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 9:18 am:

    So to appeal to the “widest possible readership” the Sun Times will “approach election coverage in a new way. We will provide clear and accurate information…”

    Good move: sneedless to say, a strategy of providing cloudy & inaccurate information might not work so well, at least not without celebrity photos.


  8. - Michelle Flaherty - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 9:23 am:

    Having participated in the process at a different newspaper, they should have been abandoned a long time ago. You end up with people throwing stuff together based on personal beliefs and a couple headlines to back up a pre-conceived point. Or worse, you enlist your allegedly objective news staff in the endorsement process.


  9. - Kerfuffle - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 9:26 am:

    While editorial boards seem to enjoy the perceived power of endorsements (or perhaps they just sadistically like to make candidates cower), it is the candidates themselves who seem to covet newspaper endorsements the most. Still it is good to see that at least one newspaper has wakened to the realization that the impact of endorsements on the voters is marginal at best. Like Wordslinger, I am dubious as to how long the policy will last and what “exceptions” to that policy they will make from time to time when they feel that the electorate is in need of their guidance.


  10. - Cincinnatus - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 9:53 am:

    There’s three hours of my life filling out their questionnaire for nothing.


  11. - Wensicia - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 10:00 am:

    I don’t have a problem with getting rid of endorsements, editorial boards are notoriously biased in many cases. However, they can still influence voters through negative editorials on political platforms.


  12. - 3rd Generation Chicago - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 10:02 am:

    Good move. It shows that the newspaper is trying to stay impartial.


  13. - Kyle Hillman - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 10:28 am:

    Is it a good move? It would depend if you share the political agenda of the Tribune Board. Down ballot races, need the validators to gain traction. You can do that with other people or resources, but it never hurt in smaller races to be endorsed by a major paper.

    With the Tribune still endorsing, the only validator down ballot races will have is the tribunes. Again, if you share thier political agenda then this might be good news. I for one, am disappointed that there is going to be a lack of perceived balance.


  14. - reformer - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 10:32 am:

    In a large swath of the suburbs, the Daily Herald still endorses. They tend to mirror Mother Trib.


  15. - The Captain - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 10:38 am:

    Next cycle’s candidate participation in their questionnaires and interviews will be statistically 0. The Sun-Times just effectively got out of the business of covering elections.


  16. - amalia - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 10:43 am:

    great. now it’s all left to the Chicago Tribune in Chicago. what a sad development.


  17. - Jake From Elwood - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 10:51 am:

    How very USA Today.
    It seems to me that this is a core responsibility of an editorial board.
    While I personally don’t give them much credence, some readers do. Seems like a copout.


  18. - Chicago Cynic - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 10:59 am:

    I think this is grossly unfair to the candidates who worked their tails off to complete questionnaires and prepare for meetings. The idea that this is a strategic move to bow out of endorsements before their new conservative owners assert themselves over editorial positions is a highly charitable reading. Their approach of asking candidates to still respond but not endorse is kind of like trying to be a little pregnant.

    From a political perspective, this is sad as well because the left-leaning Sun-Times has now left the field to the right-leaning Tribune that invariably endorses Republicans for most positions.


  19. - Ann - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 11:04 am:

    I agree. Not much loss for the races at the top of the ballot, but for things like the water reclamation district the newspaper endorsements are invaluable. Perhaps it’s wrong to expect the media to warn me when a LaRouchie is running for something, but I’m hoping they will.


  20. - mark walker - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 11:24 am:

    It’s a loss, even though their impact on races is debatable. Editorial boards will continue to attack and support candidates on their editorial pages, whether or not they endorse. The content of the candidates’ written responses to questions should become even more important, for those who take the time.


  21. - P. - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 11:28 am:

    Newspapers do a garbage job of covering the vast majority campaigns to begin with … Being part of the endorsement process, it was very clear that not only the Sun-Times but also the Tribune and Daily Herald and SouthtownStar could not manage the number candidates they did have running for office in their respective coverage areas. They don’t have the resources.

    So, that meant that most of the candidates were not - for years - interviewed prior to the endorsements. For me, that makes papers’ credibility nil.

    So in that sense it’s an ok idea (if you can’t do the job well, don’t do it at all). But endorsements are also to me the very baseline for newspapers - if you can’t do endorsements, what do you do? Nobody has time to follow all these candidates. It’s a great service to readers. This is just a big step down in the descent of the newspaper biz.


  22. - Dan Vock - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 11:29 am:

    Once upon a time (as late as the 1990s), the Champaign News-Gazette also did not endorse candidates, meaning that the all-powerful Daily Illini was the only local media outlet that did.


  23. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 11:30 am:

    The influence of endorsements is marginal at best.

    Unless, of course, they are made with time still left until Election Day AND the endorsee has the money to get the word out about that endorsement repeatedly.

    The Sun-Times is right that endorsements don’t “sway” a lot of voters.

    If you’re an avowed progressive, there’s probably very little that the Tribune editorial board can say to convince you to vote for Bill Brady.

    However, if you’re an avowed fiscal conservative, the Tribune endorsement in a crowded GOP primary race will make a difference because the Tribune is a known brand.

    By the same token, if you claim to be a fiscal conservative and the Tribune editorial board says otherwise, you are standing on one leg in a strong wind.

    That said, I think the Sun-Times editorial board has had a difficult time figuring out exactly what its “brand” is. Reform/anti-corruption? Responsible Management? If they can figure out what their “brand” is, and they apply it consistently, they won’t need to “endorse”.


  24. - chad - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 11:32 am:

    Whether endorsements actually influence the voters, the process is still good for both candidates and voters. Candidates are moved to consider and take express positions, and voters learn, at least a little bit, about those positions. Endorsements then provide a bit of credibility. The S-T proposal sounds ambiguous at best, and goofy at worst. At least a part of the reason we have such a diminished political process in Springfield is that not enough press is not there to cover things in a thoughtful manner. Losing the endorsement process is one more step in the wrong direction. Big mistake.


  25. - Capital View - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 12:17 pm:

    Can we trust the papers, even the ST, to post positions and situations side by side for comparison? For example, a lot of concern about Newt Gingrich is his relationships with other persons. The House Republicans dumped him as Speaker after three years. And his domestic life is almost beyond description, too ugly to repeat here.

    Would the policy listings mention personal incomes and sources of income, such as Mitt Romney’s assets holdings that permit him to pay barely over 15% federal taxes?

    Would it mention the religions of the candidates, presenting the Mormon issue that disturbs a few people?

    And would the most flamatory issues be presented, such as on choice or abortion?

    Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have changed positions on various matters over the years - do you state what it used to be as well as what it currently is?

    Will it note that President Obama has no business sector experience, nor does Gingrich? Gingrich currently tries to present himself as an outsider to government! That Romney has administrative experience as a prior governor, but Ron Paul / Newt Gingrich / Barach Obama do not?

    My point is that presenting issues can be as slanted as endorsements. Just watch MSNBC and Fox News. So I view the ST venture as hollow and pointless, and probably intended to avoid losing subscription to evangelical households.


  26. - Downstate Illinois - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 12:30 pm:

    So now they will just keep their bias in their reporting.

    This has more to do with cost-savings and a corporate ownership devoid of strong personalities.


  27. - One to the Dome - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 12:31 pm:

    Have to agree with Kyle. Obama was the only dem they endorsed. That’s certainly not balanced…and that’s top of the ticket.


  28. - Team Sleep - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 2:03 pm:

    Endorsements have always seemed to me to be little more than a way for a candidate to stroke the egos of those in the boardroom. I don’t know how papers up north handle this, but a lot of downstate papers merely interview the candidates (or a candidate rep for a big ticket or national race) and then merely print either a transcript or a truncated article. The paper usually prints all candidates’ answers in segments or has a week-long series - and some even have a special enclosure (i.e. like a sports schedule flier or home & garden guide). It may sound corny to some but that information is essentially unfiltered and comes straight from the candidates’ or staffers’ mouths. No BS.


  29. - Jim - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 2:44 pm:

    Really a terrible decision — a disgrace to journalism. It’s a newspaper’s job to help inform the public by explaining why certain candidates are superior to others. That, naturally, means they have a viewpoint to express, and it’s perfectly legitimate because it comes on the opinion page. I love the idiots who say editorials or editorial boards are biased — of course, they are. They’re involved in expressing opinions. That’s what they do. The test is how well they do that.


  30. - Esquire - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 3:03 pm:

    Meh…

    For years, the endorsements in the Sun-Times were quite weak. In lower ballot races, the endorsements were sometimes one sentence in length (We pick… Our choice is. . . We prefer. . .) without much in the way of explanations. It was like a cattle call. Of course, the Sun-Times endorsed Blagojevich which has to be some type of cardinal sin.


  31. - bias - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 3:41 pm:

    I think it’s a good decision. You can just look at how loud Trib reporters shout their independence from the Editorial Board to know there’s a reason they have to try and make a case. I think cable news brought too much opinion into what should be news and in the end the newspaper industry was affected too. I like the strategy of backing away from the bully pulpit a little and saying we will focus on just reporting the news. It’s certainly a good marketing strategy against the Trib. And yes, policiand and their staffs will miss the endorsements to use in ads, but i think the Sun Times is right that those endorsements aren’t that effective. The almighty Trib editorial board doesn’t want that secret out either. They’re hoping politicians believe those editorials still have weight too.


  32. - Louis G. Atsaves - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 4:01 pm:

    While poll watching, I would see some voters enter a polling place clutching newspaper endorsement sheets, in my area usually the Chicago Tribune. I always assumed it was for the lower tiered races that never grabbed any coverage or headlines. Mostly seniors or older voters.

    I would expect 2-5% of those voters would be swayed for say the County Recorder of Deeds office or judicial offices.


  33. - Anonymous - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 4:12 pm:

    20 years ago, I participated in a study on judicial races. Each of the Sun-Times and Tribune moved judicial races about 5-6% at that time, as did the CBA and the Chicago Council of Lawyers.

    There was, however, greater focus on judicial races at the time.


  34. - cermak_rd - Monday, Jan 23, 12 @ 4:52 pm:

    When you’ve got voteforjudges.org and the other bar associations, who needs the SunTimes or Trib for that?

    Google can also help with MWRD candidates, state rep etc.


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