Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Dec. 10, 2019

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From the Newsroom: Endorsing our role in election coverage

By , Columbian Editor
Published: November 16, 2019, 6:01am

Now that the election is over, I’ve been thinking about some other questions. I thought I would share two of them.

First, should newspapers continue to endorse candidates for public office? That’s been a growing topic of conversation in newsrooms and among editorial boards for the last few years. Some of the arguments against endorsements:

• They are unnecessary, since everyone can get seemingly unlimited information from the internet.

• By presenting an opinion on the editorial page, it raises questions about whether coverage in the news pages is objective.

• Endorsements only serve to fracture an already strained relationship with readers, particularly in these times when people tend to have very strong political opinions.

• Endorsements seldom reflect the outcome of the race, and thus show that newspapers are out of touch with their readers.

At The Columbian, we continue to interview and endorse candidates for office. In fact, I think it’s one of the most important things we can do:

• Unlimited information from the internet can include a lot of what President Donald Trump likes to call “fake news.”

• Readers are sophisticated and know that editorials are not written by news reporters. In fact, the staffs are deliberately separated.

• Many readers do harbor strong opinions on national politics. But in nonpartisan local races, they welcome help learning about candidates whom they don’t know.

• This fall, The Columbian’s editorial board was 17-3 on our endorsements. That’s a better record than the Seattle Seahawks’ championship year (16-3). So I don’t think we are out of touch.

Who wants good news?

We hear a lot of people complain that news media only tells the bad stories. So one of the things I have always tried to do as an assignment editor is to make sure we tell our share of good-news stories. But does anyone read them?

It’s hard to tell about our print readers’ habits, but online, the unfortunate answer appears to be “not so often.”

I got to thinking about this a few days ago after Web Editor Amy Libby ran a report on our most-viewed web stories this year. More than half of the top 20 stories of the year involved crime. The top story, so far, is about the Oct. 3 shooting at the Smith Tower in downtown Vancouver. Our second most-read story is about a Feb. 20 officer-involved shooting in Vancouver. The third is a fatal car crash in east Vancouver that occurred in September.

This jibes with a survey the Pew Charitable Trust did earlier this year about news consumption habits in the Portland-Vancouver metro area. According to Pew, 82 percent said crime news was important to follow, and another 12 percent found it interesting to follow. Topics that I consider good news, such as community activities, sports, and arts and culture news, finished much lower on the list.

But a newspaper that is full of nothing but crime reports would be depressing to read and wouldn’t give an accurate reflection of our community, where many more people do good than evil. So what sorts of “good news” stories have been popular with our readers?

Amy also ran an analysis of some of our bigger package stories. I looked at that list and saw that a feature about a Buddhist monastery in the Columbia River Gorge was popular with readers, although the Smith Tower shooting got 25 times more views.

If you’re feeling guilty, our third installment about 3-year-old Tobias Adams and what it’s like to be his age will appear in Sunday’s Life section. And in today’s Community section, you can read about a new labyrinth walk that a Ridgefield church hopes will help people find inner peace.

Although readers seem to look for the crime and other bad-news stories, we will continue to strive to present a more rounded picture of life in our pleasant corner of the world.

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Craig Brown
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