Endorsements meant to stimulate debate

glemasurier@theolympian.comSeptember 1, 2013 

A gradual decline in daytime temperatures, the return of drizzling skies and a knock on your door by strangers wanting to hand you brightly colored brochures about themselves can only mean one thing: the fall election season is baaaaack.

Election signs are sprouting like spring flowers and soon your snail mailbox will be filled with even more brochures explaining why “I’m good; the other guy is bad.”

In another week, The Olympian editorial board will begin meeting with candidates for select local offices and preparing editorials endorsing candidates in this year’s municipal elections.

There is some debate within the journalism profession about the value of political endorsements. The minority who oppose them point to the direct impact of newspaper endorsements, which they say amounts to zero.

Research on the topic is almost non-existent, but the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that a measly one percent of readers who paid attention to their newspaper’s endorsement in the most recent presidential campaign said it played a “great deal” in their voting decision.

Another 11 percent said it played “somewhat” of a role. But of that 11 percent, about a quarter were mistaken about which candidate the newspaper had actually endorsed.

So, why endorse candidates?

We have no delusion that people will change their opinion of the candidates after they read our endorsement. Persuasion is not the objective.

We like to think of our newspaper as a good citizen of this community. We engage in civic affairs. We care. Every week of the year, we offer opinions on topics ranging from how to fix our traffic problems and the benefits of supporting public transportation to why baseball fans should boo A-Rod. We even tell readers why they should volunteer for United Way or other good causes in the South Sound.

Wouldn’t it seem odd for a newspaper, which expresses its opinions about everything else all year long, to suddenly have no opinion whatsoever about the most important event of all: electing our local government?

Our editorial endorsements are meant to stimulate interest and debate. Unlike national election campaigns, local candidates don’t have many places to make their pitch. They don’t need speechwriters; they need speech venues.

The editorial pages of our newspaper provide them with an uncommon forum. The intent is to provide information and insight that helps readers to become better informed, to get involved and, most of all, to vote.

We base our endorsements on private meetings with the candidates, one-on-one interviews, watching the public debates, research with other community leaders and our own unique vantage point of having covered the issues, the cities and the candidates themselves.

We take our endorsement process seriously. We hope our assessment of the candidates helps readers crystallize their own thoughts, whether they agree or disagree with our choices. We hope readers will write their own opinions of the candidates in the form of letters to the editor, creating a healthy public conversation on the key issues of this year’s campaigns.

Most importantly, we’re cheerleading for the democratic process and what local elections are really all about: good governance.

George Le Masurier is publisher and editorial page editor of The Olympian. He may be reached at glemasurier@theolympian.com.

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