Why we endorse candidates, and who makes the call

The Idaho Statesman endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president on Oct. 13 has been one of the most read and critiqued offerings from our Editorial Board this calendar year.

Thousands weighed in on our social media platforms (more than 3,500 on Facebook), and hundreds have contacted us through telephone calls, email and letters to the editor.

Read some of the readers’ responses to our endorsement of Clinton.

In addition to that, we have learned in those responses — which, overall, were evenly split for and against our position — that we have work to do to better present our opinions and distinguish them from general news content. After encountering several readers and customers who expressed concern that our newspaper had lost its objectivity, we decided to clarify how the news pages and opinion pages are distinct and pursue different missions.

We’ll be making a few design, labeling and policy changes so that our audiences can better understand the separation between our news and opinion efforts. I’d like to start by providing answers to some common questions we fielded.

Q: What is the Editorial Board and who came up with the endorsement?

Statesman Publisher Debra Leithauser and I are standing members of the our Editorial Board. We are joined by five volunteer members of the community who serve one-to-two-year terms on a rotating basis. We select our members based on our own recruitment efforts and through recommendations from a variety of community contacts. Our aim is to seat a board that represents a mix of ages, genders and political leanings. After much research, discussion, writing and rewriting, we produce opinions on a variety of topics and endorse political candidates on the local, state and national level.

It is important to note that the efforts of the Editorial Board are totally separate from the Statesman newsroom. Though news editors and reporters might occasionally sit in on our Editorial Board sessions so they can ask questions of candidates and other guests for news stories, they are not present for our deliberations and don’t contribute to our opinions.

Q: Why do you endorse candidates?

As Leithauser has pointed out, it is our mission to encourage the community to converse with us and with politicians. We open our pages to letters, guest opinions and our opinions — because the public notices and engages.

“At a time when we need more civil and civic involvement, it seems wrong to also take away the voice in the opinion pages of newspapers,” Leithauser said. “Also, politicians come talk to the Statesman in part because they know they should, and in part because they know we endorse. It is important for government accountability to have these conversations. Just this month we met with Sen. Mike Crapo, Reps. Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson (and some of their opponents), and more candidates in preparation to write more endorsements. We believe in the media’s role to hold those in power accountable.”

Another reason we do endorsements is tradition. Newspapers have been writing endorsements and opinions for many, many years. A few years ago when I was doing research for the Statesman’s 150th birthday (1864-2014), I came across dozens of endorsements of candidates and initiatives the Statesman crafted over the years, including an endorsement of George W. Bush in 2000, John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008. The Statesman did not endorse a presidential candidate in 2012.

Q: Are you biased toward Democrats, liberal points of view or outside influences?

The short answer: absolutely not. In 2014 we endorsed a GOP governor, U.S. senator and two U.S. House members. We endorse candidates we believe, at the time, will do the best job for Boise, the Treasure Valley, the state of Idaho and our nation.

Our decisions are arrived at independently and not influenced by any outside factors, including the people we do business with or our parent company, Sacramento, Calif.-based McClatchy.

Our Editorial Board is made up of individuals whose political leanings occupy the whole spectrum. We’ll be publishing more endorsements in the coming days.

Q: What’s next?

▪ Beginning today, our Have Your Say box will provide an explanation about the makeup and function of our Editorial Board.

▪ Beginning on this page (or attached to our online version of this column), you’ll find a sampling of the responses we got to our endorsement of Clinton for president.

▪ For the remainder of the election season, we want to remind you that election-related letters are limited to 100 words or less. The deadline for submitting them is Tuesday, Nov. 1. We get a tremendous volume of letters during presidential election years and will publish as many of them as we can. All letters that are accepted will run on IdahoStatesman.com.

We have enjoyed our conversations with you and the communications we have received over the past 10 days. And we are always available if you have additional questions.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman