Political endorsements by media are a time-honored tradition. A newspaper editorial board, which generally includes the publisher on down to columnists, meets with candidates and grills them on policy issues. The board votes and decides which candidate is worthy of a public endorsement on the editorial page. Candidates are sometimes eager for the vote (challengers); others are more wary (incumbents).

But n the big picture, does a newspaper endorsement really matter?

Editor & Publisher’s Count of Newspaper Endorsements

In Nate Silver’s New York Times blog he notes some interesting trends on presidential candidates. “Until recently, newspaper editorial pages overwhelmingly favored Republican presidential candidates. Over the past three decades, however, the endorsement scales have been balancing out, eventually tipping towards the Democrats in the past two presidential elections.”

Promoting endorsements is also an interesting, if not sensitive, matter. Newspapers take endorsements most seriously as one of the sacrosanct traditions delivered from the Fourth Estate. Here’s a take from a newspaper in Mississippi:

“The tradition of newspaper editorials addressing political matters dates to the pre-Revolutionary War press when anonymous opinion writers helped to stoke the fires of freedom and independence. Editorial endorsements likewise are rooted deep in this republic’s history.”

What makes newspapers edgy is that no matter how an endorsement comes out in the wash, political candidates will use it (or the absence of it) to hit the voters between the eyes. If you win one, it’s a good thing – if you don’t, well … generally that means you can speak privately about how wronged you were by the errant (or biased) press.

Candidates who do win them, however, are quick to use them.

No more than a day after The Indianapolis Star endorsement of Democrat mayoral candidate Melina Kennedy, her camp was swinging online ads to reach her potential Indy voters.

As I reviewed an American Journalism Review article about political endorsements posted from the fall of 2004, Democratic candidate Melina Kennedy has found her way on the page with this current ad: “Indy Star says Kennedy. The Indianapolis Star backs Melina Kennedy for Mayor. See why.” The ad includes a link to her website. (Tracking by cookies accomplished in the digital ad world.)

Does an endorsement actually swing voters to the endorsed candidate – or away from the endorsed candidate? Research is a bit scant in the regard.

As a GOP presidential hopeful Texas Gov. Rick Perry has snubbed the process entirely, earning the wrath of those who had hoped to get him before a board for questioning. According to a reported by The Associated Press, Perry said newspapers are “old news and have lost much of their influence.”

Said Perry: “It was a calculated decision, but you know the world is really changing, I mean, the way people get their information, who they listen to, etc. Put it all on the balance beam and the balance was toward not doing the editorial boards.”

Fred Brown, a former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists (which is based in Indianapolis) and a veteran political columnist in Colorado, told us: “Readers are always suspicious of the process – thinking that a newspaper won’t give a fair shake to other candidates once its editorial page has picked a favorite in the race.”

“Newspapering started as a partisan undertaking, with publications created to support a particular party or agenda. Endorsements have continued long after the press began taking pains to be more objective in its news coverage,” he said.

While endorsing presidential candidates takes on a different national flavor, Brown also believes newspapers are more influential in selecting “down ballot” candidates in local races – where readers may not have the time or will to do much of their own research in prepping for the voting booth.

Take our poll at the bottom of the page and tell us what you think. Do newspaper endorsements influence your vote?

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