Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chicago Sun Times Touts Its Irrelevance; Editorials Won't Endorse Candidates

English: Chicago Sun-Times building in Chicago...Image via WikipediaWriting in an editorial this week that it has "come to doubt the value of candidate endorsements by this newspaper or any newspaper, especially in a day when a multitude of information sources allow even a casual voter to be better informed than ever before," The Chicago Sun Times announced it no longer will endorse political candidates at any level.

The Jan. 22 editorial in the tabloid daily, which is about to undergo an ownership change (see "TUOL" post 12/21/11), said readers have complained to the paper that they can make up their own minds and don't need to be told what to do. The paper has also expanded the journalistic code of ethics ban on staffers making financial contributions to political campaigns to  encompass Sun Times senior management.

The editorial cites research suggesting editorial endorsements do not sway voters, particularly in elections that garner considerable attention. Some may consider the new policy of the Sun Times, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009, pragmatic and even, humble, in its tacit between-the-lines admission that what it says editorially doesn't matter. The tireless staff of "TUOL", which long ago resided in Chicago and maintains strong ties to the city, however, considers the decision a cop-out and an act of cowardice.

Not taking the time to endorse candidates for office is a clumsy attempt to mask that the depleted Sun Times newsroom lacks the bodies to perform the task and is a craven excuse to hide management's fear of alienating advertisers and an ever-shrinking readership by its choice of candidates.

Journalists have the proxy of their readers when they attend political gatherings and interview candidates. Citizens are obligated to inform themselves about the voting record and character of candidates, but should be able to look to the editorial board of their local newspaper for guidance, not fiat.

The Sun Times is shirking its responsibility by leaving it to partisan and nonpartisan bloggers to carry out its duty to vet candidates. Choosing to stay above the fray to avoid being branded "liberal" or "conservative" by online commenters and candidates does not benefit readers, who, especially in local elections, may lack the command of issues and the positions staked out by incumbents and challengers.

As a cost-savings measure, the Sun Times agreed last summer to allow its blood rival Chicago Tribune to print its editions (see "TUOL" post 7/20/11). With its latest decision, the paper has ceded its journalistic stewardship and the higher moral ground to the Tribune.

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