“The past isn’t what it used to be; then again, it never was.” So goes an old saying, and perhaps the same is true for newspaper endorsements in elections.
We might think there was a time when the editorial voice of newspapers carried tremendous weight and tipped election outcomes to candidates receiving the unsigned “voice of God” endorsement of editorial pages. But that impact was probably never as great as some might have imagined, particularly for high-profile races in which voters have made up their own mind.
Still, it’s always interesting to see which way the endorsement winds are blowing, and the Boston mayoral contest offers an interesting window into what seems to be the waning presence of strong endorsement voices in elections.
The Boston Globe, the region’s dominant media player, weighed in last week by endorsing Michelle Wu in her final election showdown with Annissa Essaibi George. It followed the paper’s earlier endorsement in the September preliminary of Andrea Campbell, who finished third and out of the running for the final.
The Wu endorsement appeared in the Saturday print edition, generally the least read paper of the week. Alan Wirzbicki, deputy editor for editorials, said the timing was simply a matter of when the endorsement was finalized. “We published the editorial as soon as it was ready,” he said in an email. “Also, while it’s true it appeared in print on Saturday, it was online on Friday.”
The Boston Herald, which has seen its staffing ranks increasingly depleted, has been strangely silent when it comes to endorsements in the race. The paper did not make an endorsement in the preliminary and has not made one in the final. Editorial page editor Sandra Kent did not return emails sent during each round asking about the paper’s decision to not weigh in.
Wu also won the backing of the Latino community newspaper El Planeta. “Our values of freedom, democracy and tolerance are at stake in our city and in our country” and Wu “will work and fight for those values,” the paper said. It noted that it was only the second time in its 17 years that El Planeta has endorsed a candidate, the other time being for Ed Markey in his 2013 Senate run.
The Dorchester Reporter and Bay State Banner, which have both provided extensive news coverage of the mayor’s race, have not made endorsements. The Reporter weighed in during the last open race for mayor, backing Marty Walsh in 2013. Publisher and executive editor Bill Forry says his thinking is changing on the issue of candidate endorsements.
“While I don’t rule out making an endorsement in local races—and reserve the publisher’s prerogative to do so anytime— I’d say generally that a newsroom like ours can have a far greater impact with consistent, enterprise-driven reporting than with any single endorsement column,” Forry said in an email. “Particularly with a smaller newsroom, it’s better to keep our team unencumbered by the dynamics that an endorsement process can create.”
Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University, said public attitudes toward the press have played a role in papers being more reluctant to make endorsements. “I think news organizations are more reluctant to endorse than used to be the case, mainly because the public is more skeptical about the media these days and resent being told how to vote,” he said. “A no-endorsement policy makes life easier for reporters, too, since they’re not perceived as being in the bag for whichever candidate their editorial page has decided to back.”
In terms of the rationale for editorial backing in an election, Kennedy said papers make endorsements for two reasons: “to express their values and to persuade voters.” He said persuasion works best in low-profile contests where “voters might genuinely want some guidance, such as city council.” He thinks endorsements have no impact in high-profile races where voters have made up their own minds, such as president, US Senate, and governor. “The Boston mayoral race is probably high-profile enough that an endorsement isn’t going to make much of a difference except at the margins,” he said.
Another dynamic at play that seems likely to further reduce the role of media endorsements, said Kennedy, is the growth of nonprofit news outlets in the face of the continued battering of the for-profit business model supporting local newspapers. Such nonprofit outlets, which include public radio stations as well as digital publications such as CommonWealth, can’t make candidate endorsements without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status. “So that’s another force pushing us away from endorsements,” he said.
Where are the goals? Boston mayoral candidates Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George have talked a lot about the city’s schools during their campaign, but one thing missing from the debate has been the setting of clear goals for improved student outcomes. The lack of attention to outcomes is occurring at a time when persistent low achievement and chronic absenteeism prompted a scathing state review last year, with the threat of a state takeover of the schools broached. Read more.
Baker, Wu at odds: As Gov. Charlie Baker has shown on the issues of rent control and a fare-free MBTA, he is philosophically not on the side of Boston mayoral candidate Michelle Wu. Read more.
Lottery scheme: Twelve people are charged with a lottery deception scheme in which winning tickets were handed over to others who would claim the prizes (and keep a large chunk of the winnings) as part of a scheme to conceal the income. Read more.
Third term decision very complicated: Gov. Charlie Baker says the decision on whether to seek a third term is “very complicated.” Asked why, he says: “Are you serious? Really?” Read more.
Independent reviews: Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield and Sen. Jo Comerford of Northampton say independent foster care reviews are needed at the Department of Children and Families. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Some Merrimack River area lawmakers want more COVID relief money to be directed toward fixing sewage outflows that are overflowing into bodies of water. (Eagle-Tribune)
Sen. Eric Lesser says the time is right to legalize sports betting, but questions remain around consumer and athlete protection issues. (MassLive)
The blight of liquor “nip” bottles that litter some neighborhoods has some voices calling for the tiny containers to be added to the state bottle bill law and have a deposit added to them. (Boston Globe)
More than 800 Boston municipal employees are on unpaid leave for failing to comply with the city’s vaccine mandate. (Boston Globe)
The Massachusetts Nurses Association files a complaint with the Department of Public Health asking them to investigate two instances of “patient dumping” – turning a patient away because the person cannot pay – at St. Vincent Hospital. The hospital denies the allegations. (Telegram & Gazette)
Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker, who already has the support of former president Donald Trump, picks up the backing of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. (Politico)
The bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Worcester urges parents to opt their children out of Worcester public school’s sex ed curriculum. (Telegram & Gazette)
The state extends the indoor mask mandate in schools through January 15, with an opt out for schools with an 80 percent vaccination rate. (Patriot Ledger) The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education also says schools cannot require a negative COVID test as a condition for students returning to class after a holiday or vacation. (MassLive)
A coalition of LGBTQ people and allies condemn anti-gay comments made by a Worcester school committee candidate. (MassLive)
Plans to close two Boston middle schools are leaving some families of elementary school students without a plan for where their children will go for sixth grade. (Boston Globe)
Only one developer submitted a proposal to redevelop the long-abandoned Mohawk Theatre in North Adams as an event and entertainment space. (Berkshire Eagle)
The MBTA said a man committed suicide by jumping in front of an outbound commuter rail train in Swampscott. (Daily Item)
Former New England Patriots player Patrick Chung is arrested on a domestic violence charge in Milton. (Patriot Ledger) Former Boston Celtics player Jabari Bird admits to kidnapping and strangling his then-girlfriend in 2018. (MassLive)
A new state policy will require visitors to state prisons to take a rapid COVID test. (MassLive)
Around 50 state correction workers are suspended and could lose their jobs for refusing to get a COVID vaccine. (MassLive)
The Baltimore Banner, a new nonprofit digital outlet, will launch sometime next year and has hired Kimi Yoshino, the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, to be its first editor. (Washington Post)