Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sounding Out The Endorsement Process

Endorsements can often be worth something in elections. Especially when they come from sources that would seem to carry some weight. The News-Press, The Santa Maria Times, The Independent and the Daily Sound, all have a following.

I'm sure that you, like myself, know of people who, rather than take the time to learn about the candidates or the issues, will simply vote for whomever or whatever their favorite newspaper says to vote for.

Traditionally, the endorsements of a newspaper represent the position of a paper as an institution. Of course, how a newspaper arrives at that position can vary greatly.

Large newspapers like the L.A. Times have editorial boards composed of people from both the news and opinion section. Tim Rutten a columnist with The Times once described the experience as follows. "If you were an editorial writer proposing a piece for the next day's paper, you had to sit across a conference table from the editor and the publisher and the paper's senior most news editors and defend not only the argument you intended to make but also its factual basis. It was a rigorous, often bracing experience."

Contrast that description to the process that takes place at the Santa Barbara Daily Sound for example, who yesterday endorsed Dan Secord over Janet Wolf in the race for Second District County Supervisor.

The fact that the Sound recommended Secord wasn't particularly surprising to me. But I was curious about the endorsement process at the paper. I phoned Daily Sound editor and publisher Jeramy Gordon and asked him about it.

Gordon confirmed that at the Daily Sound there is no editorial board. Although in this last round of city council elections, Cheri Rae, who was then an opinion columnist for the Sound, sat in with him on the candidate interviews, this time it is Gordon alone who is inviting the candidates in and interviewing them one-on-one. While no one else participates in the interviews Gordon will sometimes talk to his reporters that are covering the races to learn more about the candidates and the issues, but otherwise keeps the news staff isolated from the endorsement process. Ultimately, it's Gordon who decides whom to endorse and then writes the editorial endorsement himself.

Gordon pointed out that The Daily Sound only endorses in those races where he feels he is familiar enough with the candidates and the issues. He mentioned that the paper won't be making an endorsement in the fiercely contested Das Williams/Susan Jordan State Assembly race. The Sound has previously announced it is recommending Joyce Dudley for DA.

Gordon also pointed out that rather than making "endorsements" he calls them "recommendations." The distinction being that the paper is not backing the candidate politically.

Of course, Gordon at least interviews the candidates. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the News-Press didn't interview Wolf when it endorsed Secord. I'm also told that the News-Press didn't interview either of the candidates for district attorney although it endorsed Josh Lynn. The News-Press does have video of interviews assistant city editor James Zoltak did with the DA candidates posted on its website. So perhaps owner Wendy McCaw did look at the videotape before deciding that her paper would recommend Lynn.

By trying to shed some light on the endorsement process I'm not trying to diminish the recommendations made by the Sound, or any other paper for that matter. I'm only trying to point out that the endorsement process can be a one-man band. Yet one that fills the room with a lot of sound.

And you old timers out there like me probably thought that the saying, "One reporter's opinion," died along with George Putnam.

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