FOGEL: Editor, endorse not

The Cavalier Daily has a responsibility to inform its readers rather than endorse student government candidates

The University Board of Election (UBE) results were announced last week, and like many other clubs on grounds, The Cavalier Daily managing board took to the long-held practice of endorsing student government candidates. This tradition for our newspaper, despite its prevalence in national elections, needs to go.

For any given presidential or congressional election, voters have many news sources to choose from including newspapers that endorse both sides and newspapers that choose the path of objectivity. Even smaller-scale elections will feature an array of endorsements and non-endorsements. On the other hand, our student government elections have one newspaper with the responsibility of covering said elections.

There are other newspapers on grounds, but none of them besides The Cavalier Daily covered last week’s elections. This monopoly The Cavalier Daily possesses over UBE coverage means that it has a duty to focus attention on the more significant elections that students must vote on. Although there is no conclusive evidence that newspaper endorsements have a direct impact on political elections, this monopoly suggests that The Cavalier Daily may have more of an impact on voter sentiment than other newspapers may have. After all, of the contested races that the newspaper endorsed — Student Council Vice President of Administration election and College Honor representative elections — only one endorsed candidate of the six failed to get elected. But The Cavalier Daily has a duty to avoid subjectivity, as it is, for many students, the only source of election information.

This spring’s elections didn’t provide the best example of a strong election season — only 5,631 students, or 25 percent of the student body, voted. The low turnout was likely due to the large number of uncontested races, as suggested by a recent Cavalier Daily news article. The article establishes the correlation between uncontested races and a lack of campaigning to reach out to voters. Therefore, for this spring in particular, an increase in uncontested races and decrease in campaigning puts more pressure on The Cavalier Daily to reach out to students, help increase voter turnout and provide objective information on the elections.

The February 24th special election edition did just that. It provided candidates’ “Yes or No” responses to pressing questions as well as “Man on the Street” questions with students’ opinions on the elections. Yet, besides the front page and second page introductions to certain elections, the only in-depth opinions of the candidates could be found in the editorial page’s endorsements. It would be more beneficial for voters to provide convincing arguments for each candidate rather than give a one-sided endorsement. Then, students can assess the validity of each argument and form an educated opinion on the candidate to whom they will give their vote.

As Howell Raines, former executive editor of the New York Times suggests in a 2000 New York Times article, editorial endorsements are “not an attempt to dictate to the reader what he ought to do”; rather, they are meant to stimulate a “civic dialogue.” Still, when that discussion starts as a lopsided argument for particular candidates, it does not give a fair representation of the election race in order to create such a dialogue. It is for this reason and others that the USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, two of the three most circulated newspapers in America — and if you go by print, the two most circulated — do not generally endorse candidates for political elections.

In a 2012 editorial before the presidential election, the USA Today managing board decided not to endorse candidates, instead encouraging voters to “stay true to your convictions” and “vote for the candidates who you believe will respect the voters’ choice and govern” rather than “shout from the ideological ramparts.” Perhaps the Wall Street Journal and USA Today feel that endorsing candidates creates a sense of distrust among readership due to the vast array of political affiliations that reads each newspaper.

Another qualm I have with student government endorsements is the personal bias to which they are subject. Students are more likely to vote for a candidate if they have a personal connection to him or her, and this has the possibility of unfairly swaying an endorsement. I am not suggesting that this is the case for every endorsement, yet it is an important factor to consider, especially on a college campus in which many are bound to know someone involved in student government.

One way to avoid endorsements yet still provide a solid editorial, besides enlisting the help of opinions from all points of view, could be to publish which organizations have endorsed each candidate. This is an effective way to inform candidates of endorsements while still maintaining a sense of objectivity toward students. These other endorsements, along with a variety of opinions involving the more contested races, could be a proper substitution for endorsements and ensure The Cavalier Daily can inform readers in the appropriate way.

Jared Fogel is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. His columns run Fridays.

Published March 7, 2014 in Opinion

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