Thursday, October 25, 2007

No more White House endorsements from Greensboro

Presidential endorsements fall by wayside
It was such a small item on the AP wire that I ran right by it the first time. “No Endorsements” was the cryptic slug, and I wondered if it meant a North Carolina newspaper was revising the way it goes about recommending political candidates.
It was not just one, but three well-known and respected Southern newspapers – and one of them was the paper that provided me with off-and-on employment from the time I was old enough to throw a newspaper on a porch. The daily newspapers owned by Landmark Communications, Inc. – in Norfolk and Roanoke, Va. and Greensboro – would no longer endorse candidates in presidential races.
All three newspapers’ editorial departments will continue to endorse candidates in local and statewide races, the story said, but there’s no longer as much need as there once was to endorse in races for the presidency, the Pilot said in an editorial Sunday. I did not see an announcement on the Greensboro News& Record’s Web site, though I may have missed it.
The news was first broken in an editorial column Sunday in the Roanoke Times, but the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot editorial Monday was what drew the AP’s attention. Here’s a link to that editorial.

“Presidential elections are not our beat,” the Pilot said. “Our time is best spent on local and state problems or those national ones that bear directly on us.”
Endorsements during election campaigns are enormously time-consuming and wind up stirring a lot of passions – some for, some against the practice. My boss Ed Williams had a good column last week explaining how we approach endorsements.
His point was a good one: If you like our editorials, chances are you’ll agree with our endorsements. And if not, you may prefer someone else.
Landmark’s decision is reflective of the changes going on among newspapers generally and editorial departments specifically. We’re all learning to deal with new technology. In my hometown of Greensboro, they’re not only blogging with pictures and audio clips, but are now in the process of putting up video statements from candidates and working on airing the results of a candidate's debate.
This is all a long way from the hot-lead and grease-pencil days of the Greensboro Daily News, as it then was called, where I helped carry the paper as a boy in Greensboro and later on campus at Chapel Hill, wrote high school sports as the $20-per-month correspondent from Page High and after college days was a copy editor, Alamance Bureau reporter, columnist, Raleigh Bureau Chief, editorial writer – and its last Washington Correspondent back in the 1970s.
I had the great good luck to work for smart folks there – Managing Editor Irwin Smallwood, as good a man as I ever knew anywhere, the graceful and erudite Bill Snider, and Rhodes Scholar John Alexander, with whom I’d eat black-eyed peas and collard greens at the old Woolworth’s Lunch Counter on Elm Street before heading back to the paper to editorially flay the hide off some unfortunate for one misstep or another.
The paper usually endorsed in presidential races, but not always, notes my friend Allen Johnson, the editorial page editor there. “We’re still going to write about issues pertinent to the campaign,” he notes, but readers won’t find “that big Sunday editorial” about the presidential race.
Like everything in newspapering, there will be those who like the decision to stop endorsing in presidential races, and those who don’t. I hate to see it end. A good presidential endorsement will get folks talking about issues – and sometimes throwing thunderbolts right back at the paper when they don’t like what they see. That one vivid way you know they’re still reading their favorite morning newspaper.


David McKnight said...

I view this as a further loss to the political and journalistic independence of this region of the South. Over here in the Triangle, folks interested in the affairs of the Democratic Party, for example, whether at the local, state or national level, are being overwhelmed with pressures relayed to us in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill to view issues and national campaigns in this way or that, as dictated by political movers and shakers from New York to California.

When we had good and independent-minded newspapers from Virginia--our neighbors to the north, the land of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe-- coming out with strong and well articulated editorial endorsements in the presidential nomination races and general election campaigns, we could say to these national political and media operatives: look at what some of our esteemed newspapers in Norfolk, Roanoke and Greensboro are saying about the platform you are trying to force upon us.

Whether you would be inclined to support them or oppose them, with a John Edwards running for President in the Democratic primaries, or if an Elizabeth Dole were running in the Republican primaries, our academics, political activists and journalists could point out what viable North Carolina candidates are urging the political parties and the country to do rather than us simply always being on the receiving end of the latest push from the party congressional and senatorial campaigns or the latest politcal analysis in the national news media.

It's not a matter of the old 19th Century contest between "states rights" and the federal government; no, it's a need for people in the South and especially in Virginia and the Carolinas, to remind the national politicos and opinion-makers: we're just as much entitled to the constitutional and political prerogatives of U.S. citizens as people are in New York and California.

And even at the Charlotte Observer, which apparently takes pride in having totally separate executive leadership of the news and editorial departments, when you don't have that across-the-board leadership speaking for your newspaper, then "your people," i.e., people from the Charlotte region living and working anywhere in the Carolinas, inevitably get "pushed around" politically in places like Raleigh and the Triangle because nobody is worried about a good strong news story being backed up by coordinated editorial advocacy. Around here it's take a shot at a Charlotte or Mecklenburg person because the newspaper down there either won't find out about it or won't do anything if they do catch wind of it.

Landmark Newspapers, whose corporaste headquarters are located so close to the Yorktown site of the ultimate victory for American independence, has taken a big chuck of the vital upper Southern region of the Founding Era of the Republic out of the picture as far as weighing in on our quadrenniel presidential contests are concerned. If they had staged such a retreat 200 years ago, then perhaps neither Thomas Jefferson nor James Madison would have ever made it to the White House.

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