A few days ago, on the orders of its publisher Stacey Cowles, the Spokesman-Review of Spokane published an unsigned editorial inexplicably urging its readers to back Donald Trump for reelection.
“Donald Trump is a bully and a bigot. He is symptomatic of a widening partisan divide in the country. We recommend voting for him anyway because the policies that Joe Biden and his progressive supporters would impose on the nation would be worse,” the Cowles-ordered Trump endorsement began.
That’s right: Stacey Cowles would rather keep sliding right on down the hill towards fascist oligarchy than elect a President who wants to protect people’s healthcare, right to breathe clean air, ability to go to college, take care of family members in their old age, and restore America’s standing in the world.
Cowles’ insistence on endorsing Trump has predictably inflicted tremendous damage on the credibility and reputation of the paper his family owns.
So much so, in fact, that the paper’s editor Rob Curley has announced that he has convinced Cowles to end the practice of running unsigned editorials and do away with endorsements of candidates for elected office.
With those words simply attributed to The Spokesman-Review, it became clear things should be different from here on out. There are some newspaper traditions we shouldn’t just be OK dumping, we should openly embrace throwing them out as outdated relics.
The irony is that I had pitched this idea to our publisher a few years ago on a roadtrip to a newspaper conference.
The idea was remarkably simple: If we give our readers the facts, we don’t have to tell them what to think. They can come to their own conclusions. There are some things that we should be OK telling our readers, because we’ve given them the facts.
Instead, we’d focus on the things that only we can give you, because we live here. We’d also make the editorial pages much more about our community’s thoughts – a mirror that reflected itself – meaning more letters and columns from people who live here.
And when we did write about our opinions, we would always say whose opinion that is. The point was that our opinions really should be from our community and we should continue to throw out traditions like unsigned editorials. When you get rid of the things that no longer matter, you can zero in on the things that are essential.
Getting better isn’t just about what you do, but about what you don’t do. So we are no longer running unsigned editorials and we are dropping endorsements.
Emphasis is mine.
This announcement is proof that good can come out of bad.
Stacy Cowles’ decision to publish an endorsement of Donald Trump showed frighteningly poor judgment and a lack of empathy.
But it has prompted an important policy change at the Spokesman-Review: No more unsigned editorials. And no more endorsements, either.
Our team heartily welcomes these developments, and we urge The Seattle Times and other newspapers in Washington State to follow suit.
When you’re in the habit of almost universally recommending that incumbents be reelected due to their experience (as most of Washington State’s editorial boards are) you’re not providing much of a service… not even to people who go by the mantra of “I vote for the person, not the party.”
A far more sensible practice is to create editorial space for readers to talk about who they are supporting for public office (and why) through letters to the editor. The Columbian, out of Vancouver, currently does a really good job of this.
The Spokesman-Review’s new policies mirror our long held practices here at NPI. All of the long form pieces we publish here on the Cascadia Advocate are signed (like this post) and we do not endorse candidates for public office.
We do take positions on ballot measures because we are a research and advocacy organization that works to turn ideas our region and country needs into laws.
But we do not endorse candidates or engage in electioneering for or against candidates. Rather, NPI uses its publications to look at contests for public office through a research and advocacy focused journalism lens.
Our region’s remaining newspapers have a crucial role to play in promoting civic health and keeping people well informed. We want them to be as prosperous and successful as possible. We believe that dumping unsigned editorials and candidate endorsements in favor of creating a space where readers can express well-worded opinions that abide by high standards for civic discourse would encourage more people to subscribe and support the newsrooms that our newspapers operate.
Congratulations to the Spokesman-Review for getting the party started. Here’s hoping more of our newspapers jump on the bandwagon.