AJC wimps out on endorsements
That most inspiring thought, from Howard M. Ziff, one of my most inspiring journalism professors at the University of Illinois, came to mind when I read that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has decided to stop endorsing candidates for public office.
I can’t think of a more vital part of the agenda-setting role for a newspaper than vigorously vetting candidates and forthrightly informing readers of the findings. So, why is the AJC walking away from it?
In a sterile and bland editorial, the newspaper gave no compelling reason for electing to neuter itself when it comes to elections.
“We have heard from readers — and we agree — that you don’t need us to tell you how to vote,” the paper said in an editorial published Friday. “What readers tell us they need is information on who the candidates are, what they have done and what they want to do in the new job.”
While illuminating the records and aspirations of a candidates in a presumably fair and down-the-middle format is a valuable public service, the newspaper will deprive its readers of the unique and equally valuable insights gained by the reporters and editorial writers who cover the candidates on a day-to-day basis.
In an era when any number of user-generated media are producing any number of user-generated opinions, opinions indeed are plentiful. But those opinions frequently are of questionable quality and pedigree.
Those of us who still have confidence in and respect for newspapers want to know what professional journalists really think about the people running for public office. The editorial page should be a major venue for getting that information.
From a practical point of view, many of us depend on a newspaper’s assessment of the laundry list of judges standing for re-election and the hopefuls running for such often obscure boards as those governing community colleges, transit agencies, mosquito-abatement districts and the like.
After years of relentless staff cuts, routine and sustained coverage of those government activities is the most likely to have been truncated or eliminated at most newspapers. Absent input from the newspaper’s editorial page, most voters would have no idea whom to support.
Here in California, the land of limitless, usually ill-conceived and often misleading ballot propositions, I depend on newspapers to cut through the fiscal and rhetorical voodoo associated with most of them. While papers still provide he-said, she-said coverage of the highest-profile ballot measures, the propositions often are so intentionally befuddling that even the most diligent voter needs a straight steer from the newspaper’s editorial page.
The AJC is correct in saying that it can’t tell its readers how to vote. Even if every voter doesn’t follow a paper’s lead, however, a newspaper has the right and responsibility to share what it knows and lead its community.
Thorough and balanced reporting, combined with well-considered opinion, are two of the major things that differentiate newspapers from their incessantly proliferating online competitors.
There’s no excuse for abandoning those powerful attributes — or for wimping out. Why is the AJC doing so?