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Editorial: Why we will no longer endorse in elections

Updated: February 25, 2012 8:13AM

Seventy-one years ago, Mar­shall Field III founded this newspaper to create a bully pulpit, on the editorial page, for America’s entry into the war in Europe and for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s domestic agenda, the New Deal.

Somebody in the Midwest, Field believed, had to stand up and counter the isolationist and anti-Roosevelt fulminations of Col. Robert McCormick and his Chicago Tribune.

It was an era, even then drawing to a close, when many American newspapers were unabashedly partisan, and not necessarily only on the editorial page. Not unlike news shops on cable TV and the Web today, they catered to a core of readers who thought very much like them.

Those days are gone. Most good newspapers today attempt to appeal to the widest possible readership, including people of every political persuasion, by serving up the best and most unbiased news coverage possible. They want to inform you, not spin you.

With this in mind, the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board will approach election coverage in a new way. We will provide clear and accurate information about who the candidates are and where they stand on the issues most important to our city, our state and our country. We will post candidate questionnaires online. We will interview candidates in person and post the videos online. We will present side-by-side comparisons of the candidates’ views on the key issues. We will post assessments made by respected civic and professional groups, such as the Chicago Bar Association’s guide to judicial candidates.

What we will not do is endorse candidates. We have come to doubt the value of candidate endorsements by this newspaper or any newspaper, especially in a day when a multitude of information sources allow even a casual voter to be better informed than ever before.

Research on the matter suggests that editorial endorsements don’t change many votes, especially in higher-profile races. Another school of thought, however — often expressed by readers — is that candidate endorsements, more so than all other views on an editorial page, promote the perception of a hidden bias by a newspaper, from Page One to the sports pages.

In keeping with this effort to go the extra mile to reassure you of our commitment to nonpartisanship, we also have decided to extend to our senior management the journalist code of ethics ban on making contributions to political campaigns.

We pride ourselves in offering a smart editorial page that is deeply engaged in vital civic issues, and we will continue on that course. We have in the last year singled out for special attention a handful of issues on which we believe great progress must be made for the sake of Chicago’s future, beginning with the quality of our public schools, the health of our local economy, the city’s and state’s shaky finances, the crying need for alternatives to prison for low-level nonviolent offenders, and the integrity of our political system. We want a cleaner lake and a cleaner river. We want safer parks and streets. We want an end to daily traffic gridlock.

We’ll keep pushing.

But our goal, when we’re not too much on our high horse, is to inform and influence your thinking, not tell you what to do.

Especially with respect to endorsements.

As many of you have told us, you can make up your own mind, thank you very much.

We endorse that opinion.

John Barron


Tom McNamee

Editorial Page Editor

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