Minnesota newspapers endorse political candidates

Related story: Cravaack garnering support from local union, newspaper endorsements Newspaper readers may have been in for a shock when they flipped to the opinion page to see which politician got the nod from the editorial staff this election season. As the race to Nov. 6 comes grinding to an end, newspaper editorial boards have been picking sides and participating in the discussion about which candidates they best believe their readers should consider.

“It’s a tradition," said Chuck Frederick, opinions editor at the Duluth News Tribune. "I think is important. I take very seriously the role that we play both in providing a forum and also helping to provide a voice to the conversations we need to have.”

Each election season, newspaper editorial boards consider which races their readers will be voting on. The editorial staff invites the candidates to meet with them either one on one or with a public forum.

After the staff has met with the candidates, they go into a long deliberation process where they weigh in on a multitude of issues for each of the politicians. Once all of the elements are on the table, the editorial board makes their decision on which candidate to endorse.

“[The decisions] follow very rigorous and thoughtful conversation,” Frederick said, “None of them are made lightly that’s for sure.” Frederick said that while consensus is usually reached, not all endorsements are unanimous among the staff.

Some critics believe that these endorsements contribute to a news media bias. It is important to note that the editorial staff is not the same as the news staff. The editorial staff is completely separated from the newsroom, and the news reporters and editors have no input on how decisions are made, nor do they know the outcome until the paper is printed.

The Duluth News Tribune is owned by the publisher Forum Communications, a company that tends to favor conservative politicians. The DNT recently endorsed Mitt Romney for this year's presidential election, and in the 2008 election, the newspaper endorsed John McCain.

According to Frederick, the Romney endorsement was the only one to come straight from the corporate owners. All other endorsement decisions have been made either in conjunction with Forum Communications or entirely by the Duluth News Tribune editorial staff. This year, the Duluth News Tribune has endorsed candidates from both major parties.

The debate about how much political sway newspaper endorsements may actually have is still being discussed.

“The candidates would rather have them than not have them,” said Tony Hill, political science professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he teaches a course on campaigns and elections. “This isn’t the most important part of the campaign, but the people who read the editorial page do pay a lot of attention.”

According to Hill, the biggest influence on elections comes from the unexpected endorsement: When a liberal paper endorses a conservative candidate, or visa versa. For instance, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which is known for leaning more toward liberal candidates, endorsed Chip Cravaack for Congress. Hill also explained that newspapers often tend to favor incumbents over the challenger.

Though the presidential races tend to be marginally affected by endorsements, it is the smaller races that could use the nod the most, Hill said.

“Endorsements make more of a difference when we’re talking about county commissioners and things like that, offices that don't get paid that much attention to,” Hill said.

Whether or not the newspaper endorsement means anything to the outcome of the election remains to be seen, but as Hill said, the candidates are the ones trying to get in good with the papers. “I think that says something about who has the power,” Hill said.

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