Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Should journalists endorse election candidates? #bcmuni2011

My opinion:

Yes, journalists should endorse election candidates. Reasons below. Comments welcomed!


We are now at the height of the election campaigns for all municipal governments in British Columbia. Voting day is November 19.

VoterMedia.org is sponsoring competitions for blogs covering the elections in Burnaby, Surrey and North Vancouver. (Info & entry form here.)

My reasons:

My main reason is having watched the UBC student union elections for the past 5 years, the endorsements of candidates published by bloggers covering those elections seem to have been helpful information for voters. Voters who did not want to spend much time doing their own research (i.e. most voters), could find well reasoned endorsements to help guide them to choose candidates that would serve the voters' interests well. (Here's an example.)

It's important to note, however, that those 5 years of elections were held in the context of bloggers being rewarded via a VoterMedia system, where voters allocate funds to blogs they found helpful. I designed that system to give journalists a stronger economic incentive to build reputations for serving the voters' interests. Once they have built those reputations, they can endorse candidates without worrying so much that their endorsements will automatically be viewed with suspicion.

Journalists working in other incentive contexts have good reason to worry. There is widespread suspicion (probably justified) that many media organizations have incentives other than the broad public (i.e. voters') interest. For that reason, I think, many excellent journalists avoid endorsing. Many of those who publish endorsements (often non-journalists) are partisan, explicitly or implicitly campaigning on behalf of those they endorse, and often paid for doing so. Perhaps to avoid that taint, some journalists believe they should maintain "objectivity" by not taking sides.

Limits on my opinion:

So perhaps I should limit my opinion to the context of bloggers in VoterMedia competitions. I don't understand the incentives of mainstream media journalists well enough to have a strong opinion for them. And in the VoterMedia context, I should further limit my opinion by emphasizing that this is only my advice to bloggers and voters, but they are free to ignore it. I'm used to having my advice ignored!  ;-)

I believe more strongly in freedom of the press and democratic choice by voters than in my own opinions. But I also believe in free speech, so I feel free to express these opinions.

What are your opinions? Express below or by email to mark[at]votermedia.org...


Mark Latham said...

I thank those who sent me comments by email. Most of the responses were from bloggers & journalists who do not think it's a good idea for them to publish endorsements. This linked article is an example of this view, although it refers to endorsements by a citizen group. The comment below it illustrates the problem well.

I still think endorsements can be very helpful -- e.g. today's Georgia Straight Slate.

George Pringle for Mayor said...

There is a line between editorials who offers an opinion every day and journalists who have a duty to report the facts.

Every journalist, like every human being has their personal experience bias but professionals have that standard.

Of course, an opinion is a double edged sword, some lower the support they hope to gain by their words.

Mark Latham said...

Professional journalist-&-blogger Frances Bula gives specific voting guidance for Vancouver voters with various priorities => helpful without explicitly endorsing anyone -- in this post.

toronator said...

Newspapers should not endorse political candidates. It is in direct conflict with the journalistic ideal of objectivity.