Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The dwindling power of newspaper endorsements

So I was thinking today about validators in an election.

Everyone who seeks elected office seeks validators. They wanted the elected officials to endorse them. Or famous people. Or local leaders. Bloomberg got a Bollywood actress and people who can't even vote in NY to endorse him to "validate" him as a candidate in those groups for whom the validator has meaning.

Now it used to be that if you were running for office in Manhattan the must get in newspapers was the New York Times. This year the Times, the Daily News and the Post, the three largest dailies, endorsed Cy Vance for DA.

All three also endorsed David Yassky for comptroller and well, he got 45 % of the vote.

Which you could look at several ways.

Either the people in Manhattan read the Times, still find its endorsements meanful and persuasive, and voted for Vance and in the end he got about the same percentage of the vote, 45 %

Or you can view it as the Times, along with the other two papers, having absolutely no meaning for its readers outside of Manhattan.

Or you can view it as a newspaper endorsement only bringing a candidate to about 45% of the total vote.

Or Vance prevailed not because of his newspaper triple crown, but because of the electorate's view that he's Morgenthau's "boy" and annointed successor.

Any way you slice the cake, it's yet another disturbing trend for newspapers. Not only is readership down, its ability to persuade its readers has diminished as well.

It's an interesting phenomenon. Four years ago, the Times endorsement didn't matter for long term incumbents- they won despite losing the endorsement. See Morgenthau and Todd in Connecticut.

Flash forward to 2009 and the Times has a mixed track record of picking winning candidates who were incumbents and even weaker record of picking candidates open races.


  1. I think the NYT has lost credibility with the public. If it had had any sense of the pulse of the city, it would have recognised long before the citizenry rejected several third term candidates for city council that the public was outraged about the extension of term limits. Instead, the NYT was shocked by the results when several council members were defeated. No clue. If the NYT had sensed the community's outrage about the dishonesty in how the mayor and his city council went about extending term limits, the paper would have rejected every single third term candidate in its editorial pages -- including Mayor Bloomberg. And so should have all other newspapers. But the newspapers have lost touch with their readers, just like the third term city officials. And in the end, no endorsement is going to matter to the jilted and angry voter. No third term !!!

  2. You said some interesting things.

    The problem with newspaper endorsements is like the problem with a rotary dial phone. Everyone has moved to other ways of getting information quickly, whether it's a blog or the Internet or other methods of getting "stuff" they need to know.

    And people are loathe to wait for the next day to read about what's going on in their world as long as they can get Twitter and other "real time" information.

    So, for a newspaper to believe that people will patiently read it day after day to look for an endorsement is rather arrogant because people hardly read the paper every day any more. Some people do, but most people get their news in "snapshots" or through free paper sources. Less eyeballs means less influence.

    Hence the problem is generic- if less and less people read the papers, their endorsements become less and less valuable, to the point where people will make up their minds about candidates regardless of what's in the news.