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Do newspaper endorsements matter?


I've written three blog posts in the past few days about what newspaper editorial boards stand on the 21st Congressional District election.
Am I the only one who cares what they think?
A great deal of ink has been spilled in recent years arguing that newspaper endorsements don't matter, most recently this well thought out piece.
"We live in a far different political and intellectual environment than we did 40 years ago, or even 20 years ago, when the daily newspaper on the front doorstep was the sign of an informed household," writes Edward Morrissey. He continues later: "Perhaps the time has come for everyone to admit the obvious: Newspaper endorsements are at best meaningless anachronisms, and at worst damaging to the newspapers themselves. Maybe they'd be better to stick with reporting, and let voters figure it out for themselves."
Maybe I'm naive. Maybe I'm too stuck in the inside game. But I don't think newspapers should get out of the business of endorsing candidates. Influence has waned, sure, but not as much on the local level. And influence isn't the only reason, or even a particularly good reason, for newspapers to endorse a candidate.
First, why editorials should stick around. The point of a good editorial isn't to make sure your candidate wins. The point is to start a discussion in the community. The Watertown Times editorial endorsement of Matt Doheny over Bill Owens has generated a good amount of discussion. Whether it persuades any voters isn't the point. It got people talking. That's a good thing.
And again, this could be naivete, but I believe that an editorial board endorsement is a net positive for a candidate and can help him win over voters. The Glens Falls Post-Star's endorsement of Mr. Doheny might at least earn Mr. Doheny a second look among undecided voters. The Albany Times Union's endorsement of Mr. Owens could do the same.
The more local the race, the more important the endorsement. You can find a great deal of information about the presidential race in newspapers and online. Less so in the race for Congress. Less than that in the race for state Senate. Less than that in the race for the state Assembly. And at the bottom of the informational glut are the local races — county judge, town council, county legislator. Mr. Morrissey notes that many readers in the new media world get their sources of news "a la carte." Bu in the world of local politics, newspaper hegemony still reigns, at least in the north country. (Not to say that TV and radio haven't done a good job covering the congressional race. They have. But you can only find the tick-tock in a newspaper.)
Mr. Morrissey makes this same point: "While a case could be made for the importance of editorial endorsements in local races, where even the most well-informed voter on national issues might have little insight, the endorsements at the national level would negate the effectiveness of local endorsements by alienating a significant part of their readership."
The Times Union of Albany, the Times and the Post-Star have weighed in. I'm not sure whether other newspapers, like the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, the Plattsburgh Press-Republican and the Ogdensburg Journal will follow suit. But they should.
Mr. Morrissey writes the following: "Instead of influencing their readership in the election, these endorsements tend to serve as little more than red flags to those readers who disagree with them — and undermine their credibility thereafter."
He's correct that if the newspaper's aim is to influence the readership — to call them to action in a voting booth — returns have diminished significantly, and maybe they ought to get out of that business, especially on the national level. But if the goal is to start a discussion, keep the endorsements coming.
I'm Brian Amaral and I approve this message.

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