Why do papers make political endorsements?

Sandra Duerr
Sandra Duerr

Q: Why does your newspaper endorse candidates? It’s almost an abuse of influence. To me, it’s not right. — Caller, “Sound Off” with host Dan Del Campo, KPRL

A: It is a common and long-standing practice for newspapers to make political endorsements.

During every election season, The Tribune Editorial Board meets with all candidates for major local races and asks them a series of questions; a few focus on leadership, but most deal with specific local issues candidates would face if elected.

We review candidates’ voting records and resumes, looking for previous leadership and political experience — whether they’ve served on a planning commission or nonprofit board, for example. We also look for clarity of vision and leadership qualities, as well as problem-solving skills.

Much like we share our opinions on local issues through editorials, we use this knowledge to share our opinions on which candidates we believe will best forge policies and carry out programs that will benefit our communities. We publish these endorsements on our Opinion page.

We did not make endorsements in one recent year — 2000. We conducted the interviews and gathered information, but simply offered biographical information on the candidates and summarized what we viewed as their strengths and areas of concern. Many readers told us afterward, however, that they felt we should have indicated which candidates we believed were best. So we reviewed our decision and decided to do so going forward.

We hope our endorsements are instructive, especially to readers who lack the time to research candidates and issues on their own. But we certainly don’t expect all readers to agree with our conclusions.

Q: How do you choose Letters to the Editor? — Another caller, “Sound Off’’

A: We review every letter received, and we attempt to publish as many letters as possible. We also strive to publish letters representing as many viewpoints as possible — an individual’s political persuasion has nothing to do with our decision to publish a letter, notes Opinion Editor Stephanie Finucane.

Some letters are rejected because they’re too long; contain libelous or obscene statements; are illegible; contain inaccuracies or unproven allegations; or the writer neglected to include the necessary contact information.

Tips for letter writers appear on our website at http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2008/01/10/242250/be-an-expert-letter-writer.html. Here’s a quick summary: In order for letters to be published in print and online, they should be a maximum of 200 words and include your full name, address and telephone number. Writers are limited to one letter a month. We reserve the right to edit letters for grammar, length, clarity and taste.

When we receive multiple letters on the same subject, we may not have the space to run them all in print, but we try to post the remaining letters on our website.

Q. I noticed The Tribune buried the story on the state gas tax increase (3.5 cents/gallon) in the paper, and it’s nowhere to be found on the website. Do you think the voters would have voted in the .5 cent sales tax increase if we knew about the gas tax increase? I think not. — Jim Lemmon, Paso Robles

A: If you’re referencing voters’ passage of Proposition 30 last November — which will raise income taxes on wealthy earners for seven years and hike the statewide sales tax by a quarter-cent on the dollar for four years — I’ve no idea whether voters would have approved it had they known about the gas tax hike.

As you note, we published Friday a three-inch news story on the gas tax increase ordered by California regulators. In retrospect, we should have run a longer story, given that the increase will affect millions of people.

Do you have a question about the newspaper, our website or our coverage? If so, please write me c/o The Tribune, P.O. Box 112, San Luis Obispo, CA 93406-0112, or email me at sduerr@thetribunenews.com. Follow me on Twitter @SandraDuerr.