Editorial: Addressing concerns over editorials, endorsements

Riverhead News-Review

Lately, we’ve noticed what appears to be an emerging narrative: that newspapers should stick to reporting facts and never publish opinions. Some seem to believe editorials like the one you’re reading are a new concept created by the modern media.

The truth is, a newspaper’s opinion section is a long-standing tradition that is important to maintain. We don’t expect every reader, or even most of them, to agree with the opinions we publish.

There was a time when all of this would be considered stating the obvious, but not anymore. A lack of understanding about how a newsroom and its opinion pages operate isn’t the public’s fault. That blame rests on the newspapers themselves. We’re simply better at telling other people’s stories than we are our own.

So we figured this week, with the election wrapped up and complaints about our opinion pages piling up, we’d tell you a little about our editorial process and history.

• Since the election, several readers have asked “how we did” on our endorsements. There is no way to answer this question.

We don’t get anything from someone we endorse who goes on to win an election, nor do we keep track of how those candidates fared. An endorsement is simply our editorial board’s way of telling readers how we might vote. While there’s some expectation an undecided reader might vote the same way, we understand that most regular newspaper readers have already made up their minds by the time we print endorsements.

• Another criticism we often receive is that our editorials are unsigned. That’s because they’re meant to reflect the voice of the newspaper and not a specific staff member.

So, who writes the editorials? Ours are written primarily by executive editor Grant Parpan or editor Joe Werkmeister. Shelter Island Reporter editor Ambrose Clancy also sometimes contributes editorials on regional topics. Managing editor Jen Nuzzo or a reporter covering a specific topic often weigh in on the pieces. The subject matter is discussed in advance and a range of opinions is considered.

In a larger operation, an editorial board would function independently from the rest of the newsroom, but that’s just not feasible in our case.

• Can an endorsement be bought? That’s a question we typically hear after a local election, and the answer is no. How much a campaign spends on advertising makes no difference to us. We simply review political ads for accuracy. We make endorsements based on our position on the issues and our understanding of the candidates.

• Is your newspaper free of bias? Every story starts with an opinion, since reporters and editors must determine if a topic is worthy of exploration. The aim is then to explore a subject as thoroughly as possible and to present both sides of a controversial issue.

The opinion pages? Of course they express a specific point of view.

• When did you start publishing editorials and endorsements? Our company, known today as Times Review Media Group, began publishing endorsements in 1977. Under a previous ownership, endorsements weren’t printed, but overall they have existed since the beginning. Here’s an excerpt from one published in The Suffolk Times on April 30, 1865:

“The nation whose hopes were bright and jubilant over the recent glorious victories, which were the acknowledged harbingers of a speedy Peace, in one brief moment, is plunged into the most heartfelt gloom and sadness. The time of universal rejoicing brings with it the Hour of intense agony.

“Abraham Lincoln, the father of our country, the Nation’s Deliverer, is no more.”

Perhaps that last sentence is something we can all agree on.