Newspaper endorsements becoming scarce

Do they have value or are they just annoying?

Political endorsements, once considered part of every newspaper’s job description, are becoming a rarity.

In Massachusetts, we’re one week away from primary day and many people have already voted by mail. Yet a search of newspaper websites indicates most publications haven’t endorsed anyone in their coverage areas.

That includes the Gannett chain, which includes the MetroWest Daily News, the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, the Herald News of Fall River, and the Patriot-Ledger of Quincy, along with a host of other dailies and weeklies around the state. The Boston Herald and Lowell Sun haven’t endorsed anyone. And neither has the Salem News, the Eagle-Tribune of Lawrence, or the Gloucester Times. (CommonWealth has never endorsed political candidates.)

The Boston Globe, the state’s largest newspaper, seems to be defining its coverage area more narrowly these days. On July 28, the paper endorsed Sen. Ed Markey over Joe Kennedy III in the race for the Democratic nomination for US Senate. Three days later the paper backed Jake Auchincloss for the congressional seat being vacated by Kennedy. Since then, nothing – nothing on the congressional primary races between US Rep. Richard Neal and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, US Rep. Stephen Lynch and Robbie Goldstein, or US Rep. Seth Moulton and his challengers, Angus McQuilken and Jamie Belsito. There have also been no endorsements yet in primary races for Boston legislative seats.

The Berkshire Eagle weighed in on the two big races affecting its readers, endorsing Kennedy in the US Senate race on August 20 and Neal in his reelection bid on August 21.

The Republican in Springfield backed Kennedy for Senate but hasn’t taken a stand on Neal-Morse, at least not yet. The Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, meanwhile, backed Markey for Senate and has yet to take a stand on Neal-Morse.

There’s been a lot of analysis of newspaper endorsements over the years, most concluding that they have relatively little impact on voters except to annoy them if they don’t agree with the newspaper’s selection.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

In February, Northeastern journalism professor Dan Kennedy weighed in on the issue. “My own view, having written many endorsements over the course of my career, is that they are of no value in high-profile contests such as president, governor or US senator. Those are the races that voters follow most closely, and it’s not likely that the anonymous, institutional voice of the newspaper is going to change their mind,” Kennedy wrote. “On the other hand, endorsements can have real impact in more obscure local races such as city council or school committee. Yet such endorsements seem to have all but disappeared, probably because cash-strapped news organizations fear alienating any of their readers. (The Globe, to its credit, still does them.)”

Beryl Love, the editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, explained in 2018 why his newspaper was no longer doing endorsements. “Our parent company, Gannett, has no interest in telling you whom to vote for, and we no longer have a lavishly staffed opinion department that’s isolated from the newsroom to independently manage and write endorsements,” he said. “Some viewed our lack of endorsement as a cop-out, a shirking of our duties fueled by the fear of alienating half of our audience in these polarized times. Others said it was about time, and that our side-by-side assessment of the candidates was more beneficial than a traditional endorsement. I obviously side with the latter.”