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Endorsements are part of newspaper's civic duty

Several readers have phoned or written after our recent editorials endorsing candidates in this year's election.

That’s not unusual. Supporters of the endorsed candidates congratulate us on making wise choices, while supporters of the other candidates wonder how we could have gone so horribly wrong, or why we were so mean. That’s just politics.

But one reader called to ask why we endorsed any candidates at all. And that’s a good question.

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

Research on the topic is almost nonexistent, but the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that one percent of readers who paid attention to their newspaper’s endorsement in the last presidential campaign said it had a “great deal” of influence on their voting decision. And, 11 percent said it played “somewhat” of a role. Of that 11 percent, about a quarter were mistaken about which candidate the newspaper had actually endorsed.

A study by the Pew Center for the People & the Press concluded, “newspaper endorsements (referring to the presidential election) … dissuade as many Americans as they persuade.”

So, why endorse candidates?

We have no illusion 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 pontificate in the editorial columns about how, for example, the state Department of Transportation should fix our traffic problems. We tell city and county officials what to do, and we even tell readers why they should volunteer for United Way or the Volunteer Center for Thurston, Mason and Lewis counties.

Wouldn’t it seem odd for the 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?

We also offer our editorial endorsements 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 some information and insights that spur readers to become better informed, to get involved and, most of all, to vote.

In perhaps the most important recent election for the city of Olympia, The Olympian also stepped up – with the League of Women Voters of Thurston County – to provide public debates for council candidates.

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

Our choices were based on how well the candidates would serve all citizens of the community on a variety of issues, not on a single issue.

We take our endorsement process seriously. We hope it helps readers crystallize their own thoughts whether they agree or disagree with our choices.

We’re also cheerleading for the democratic process and what it is really all about: citizen debate.

George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, can be reached at 360-357-0206 or glemasurier@theolympian.com.

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