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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Timid in Chicago

For the first time in its 71-year history, the Chicago Sun-Times says it will not make endorsements in the upcoming elections.

In an editorial published Monday, the Sun-Times essentially said as a newspaper endorsements are passé at a time when there are so many other sources of information that “allow even a casual voter to be better informed than ever before.”

The editorial went on to say research shows endorsements don’t change many votes anyway, but readers often complain that candidate endorsements show a hidden bias.

I think you could make the case that no editorial changes many people's minds, whether it's an endorsement of a candidate or a screed about school board secrecy. But the point is to make an argument and thus contribute to the conversation in hopes of elevating it. An editorial page is supposed to engage its readers on the most important issues of the day. In a democracy, elections could be said to be the most important issue. If an editorial page won't engage on that subject, what's it's justtification for opining on all the lesser issues?

In fact, the arguments advanced by the Sun-Times for not endorsing sound like arguments I've heard for not having an editorial page at all. We don't change people's minds. All we do is make them mad and add to their suspicion that our news coverage is biased. It's all loss and no gain, so why do it?

It is true that there are many other sources of information today, but that doesn't mean voters are on a holy quest for truth. They tend to seek out news sources that help them confirm their own biases.

The news audience is so polarized that, even when consumers look for more entertaining news, such as travel or sports stories, they tend to choose sources that match their political leanings — conservatives to Fox News and liberals to National Public Radio (NPR), for example — according to a study by professors at Stanford and UCLA.

If I were being perverse, I might argue that there's an even greater need for an editorial page today. I think the ship's kinda sailed on convincing the public that newspapers remain the one source of fact-based, objective goodness amid all the partisan swill. We've been at this business of saying what we think the facts mean for a long time. Why should we concede the game to a bunch of brash newcomers just when it's getting to be a fun, free-for-all brawl?

Man, Chicago is the biggest hotbed of political thuggery and skulduggery in the nation. And a newspaper plans to sit on the sidelines when the players are chosen? This is not the same brave newspaper that pulled off the Mirage Tavern scam, the greatest undercover journalistic coup in my lifetime.