Do newspaper endorsements carry any weight?

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on October 19, 2020

For many people nowadays their local newspaper's endorsements are irrelevant. Younger people seldom get their news via the printed page and older people continue to do what older people do—die—thus slowly, but inevitably, leading to decreased subscription revenue.

It's past time for newspapers, especially local ones, to do away with endorsements.

While small, local newspapers struggle to stay financially viable, they risk alienating some portion of their potential subscriber base with every endorsement. Too often these endorsements also have the practical effect of convincing skeptics that the "wall of separation" between editorial and news is little more than a permeable membrane.

For those few voters who determine their vote on races or issues because of the endorsement, I would suspect that just as many people vote for the "other guy" rather than the individual endorsed. The thought process goes something along the lines of: "If that liberal rag endorses X, then Y must be the way to go."

Several years ago I used to drive by a local union hall on my way to and from work. They regularly put up signs indicating the candidates they supported in the upcoming election. As election day neared, I would pull off to the side of the road and take a picture of the signs with my phone—those are the people I made sure I didn't vote for.

What is a moderate?

This brings us to the local paper here in San Luis Obispo County, Calif.—The Tribune. The paper has locked its endorsements behind its paywall which, unlike most of its content, offers no workaround to getting the content for free. (You can get around many newspapers' pay walls using the Pocket app on your mobile device or its extension for your preferred browser.)

It came as no surprise to me that the local paper would endorse Congressman Salud Carbajal for re-election this year. The paper seldom endorses Republican candidates for any office. Even moderate Republican Jordan Cunningham did not earn the paper's OK when he first ran for state assembly four years ago (but he did in his first run for re-election two years ago).

Without access to the reasoning behind their decision, I can only go by the headline which is available on the paper's homepage for why the Tribune has chosen Carbajal over his GOP opponent, Andy Caldwell.

newspaper endorsementCarbajal is a moderate? Really?

ProPublica has a nice tool that allows you to compare how often any two members of Congress vote the same way. Comparing "moderate" Carbajal with House Speaker and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi—someone not considered a moderate by any measure—yields this result:

newspaper endorsements

If you go back to Carbajal's first term in Congress (2017-2018), then the number drops down to a more "moderate" 92% agreement. Choose any number of far-left Democrats, Hank Johnson (D.-Ga.), Maxine Waters (D.-Calif.), or Barbara Lee (D.-Calif.) and you'll see similar numbers in the high 90th percentile range. If this is a moderate, one wonders what a far-left Democrat would look like.

If the Tribune describes Carbajal as a moderate, it should come as little surprise that conservative voters would have little trust in whatever else the paper would tell them.

Newspaper endorsements should go the way of the dodo

It likely won't improve the quality of the reporting, but local newspapers would do well to put an end to the time honored tradition of endorsing candidates for public office. In depth, meticulously reported articles on the candidates themselves and how they view and would act on issues of pressing public interest. Good reporting like that would do far more to build readership and trust than their endorsements.


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October 2020



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