Editorial: Why TPN didn’t endorse candidates for midterm elections

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Today is the most important day in American politics since President Donald Trump was elected in 2016. In midterm elections, Americans nationwide vote for all-important House and Senate seats, governorships and local representatives — all telltale signs of the president’s performance in his first two years in office. Naturally, every media outlet wants a piece of the action — that’s why many publications, in addition to working overtime on election news coverage, also endorse candidates.

But here at The Pitt News, we don’t believe in endorsing electoral candidates — it’s wholly unnecessary and it tarnishes our image as an honest, objective newspaper. And the American populace agrees.

According to a 2017 Huffington Post poll, 51 percent of Americans believe newspapers should not endorse political candidates, while only 24 percent believe media outlets should.

And this probably isn’t a coincidence — Americans’ aversion to newspaper’s political endorsements probably has something to do with their distrust of newspapers themselves. According to Gallup, trust in the press hit a new low in 2017 — only 13 percent of Americans trust their primary news source “a lot.”

That percentage isn’t likely to improve when a newspaper divides its readership by endorsing a candidate — especially an unpopular one. For the 17th District, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette endorsed Republican Keith Rothfus over Democrat Conor Lamb. According to fivethirtyeight.com, Lamb has a 93-percent chance of winning that race and would require a systematic polling error to lose.

Whether Americans’ skepticism of the press is justified or not, certainly supporting an unpopular candidate is unwise, simply from a marketing perspective. This is because Americans don’t trust a newspaper that endorses a political candidate, especially an unpopular one, to cover the election in an unbiased manner.

“A person or organization announces who they support, with the implication everyone else should follow suit,” The Martinsville Bulletin, a small newspaper based in Virginia, said about endorsements in 2017. “We see that as tricky for a news organization, where the goal is to be objective. If we do a piece on candidate X, but we’ve endorsed candidate Y, how can you be expected to trust it?”

The purpose of a newspaper is to cover news stories fairly and accurately — that should hold for political stories too, regardless of which political direction the paper’s employees lean. Editorials are separate from general news coverage — but endorsements put a myopic focus on a preferred candidate, which is not the purpose of a newspaper.

Sadly, while most conventional logic points against newspaper endorsements, it’s a tradition that will be difficult to eradicate. More than three-quarters of newspapers nationwide have made a habit of endorsing political candidates every year since 1986 — but the tradition goes as far back as 1860 when The New York Times famously endorsed Abraham Lincoln for president of the United States.

Still, it’s a tradition that’s clearly 158 years out of date. Endorsing political candidates doesn’t make sense for the American populace or the well-being of newspapers. The Pitt News is taking the first step toward eradicating this antiquated tradition — hopefully other newspapers will follow suit.