Newspapers report political news and may also attempt to influence voting decisions through editorial endorsements, that is, formally stated support of political candidates or parties. In countries following the US and British system of organizing newsrooms, the news media have separate news and editorial staffs and pages, although it is not unusual for a news editor to sit on the editorial board. In other news systems, e.g., in most continental European countries, it is quite common that the same individual journalists who cover the news might also write editorials about the same events (Esser 1998). Nevertheless, in all systems the editorial goal is to give meaning and context to news and complex issues, whereas news reporting seeks to be impartial. Many newspapers try to present a range of viewpoints in the editorial pages, such as letters to the editor and opinion columns from various sources, including the public. The editorial staffers meet to discuss and vote on positions; however, publishers sometimes overrule them. The larger the newspaper, the easier it is to maintain separation of news and opinion. Other media endorse less frequently than newspapers.
Endorsements of political candidates, parties, or issues are only an ethical problem of the press when the endorsed candidate, party, or issue also receives more favorable coverage in the news pages. Whether or not synchronization of news and editorials happens unconsciously or by directions given by management or senior editors is a matter for empirical research. Some research has shown that journalists with favorable attitudes towards a subject tend to attribute a higher news value to news items that speak in favor of this subject and a lower news value to items that speak against it (Kepplinger et al. 1991). Although in many democratic political systems newspapers seek to clearly separate editorials and the news, many researchers question whether or not endorsements of candidates or parties influence their campaign coverage, since many studies link endorsements and people’s voting choices.
Some researchers have found that newspaper-endorsed candidates in the US received more favorable treatment than non-endorsed candidates, on various election levels – local, state, and national (e.g., Kahn & Kenney 2002). Others reported mixed results (Pritchard 2002) or little influence of endorsement (Dalton et al. 1998). Research on newspapers across several US elections indicated that, for more than 60 years, those newspapers increased frequency of federal and statewide office endorsement, yet their partisanship decreased markedly (Ansolabehere et al. 2004). In addition, the papers increasingly preferred incumbents, reflecting an increasing shift in American politics toward greater voter support of incumbents.
As the group ownership of newspapers increased in the US between the 1960 and 1972 election years, concern about the influence of economic concentration on editorial policy intensified. Wackman et al. (1975) concluded that, compared with non-chain papers, chain papers typically were high endorsers and substantial numbers of chains were homogeneous in endorsements within elections and across at least three of the four elections. Only multiregional chains demonstrated less homogeneity. In the subsequent four elections, groups still tended to be homogeneous endorsers, but this tendency was much less pronounced (Gaziano 1989). Chains that grew in size and regional breadth tended to be heterogeneous endorsers. Homogeneous chains outnumbered heterogeneous chains, but heterogeneous chains had larger circulations. Busterna & Hansen (1990) analyzed data also from three of these four subsequent years, using somewhat different definitions and methods, concluding that chains and nonchains both tended to endorse Republicans and that results on homogeneity were mixed. One Canadian study found structure of ownership did not influence editorial positions (Wagenberg & Soderlund 1975).
Corporate newspapers, which tend to be in larger, more pluralistic communities, tend to publish more editorials oriented toward local issues and criticism of mainstream organized groups than do entrepreneurial newspapers, which are more often located in smaller, more homogeneous communities (Demers 1996). Newspapers in democratic systems tend to perceive their editorial role as providing leadership and stimulating discussion while preserving neutrality in their news coverage, whereas “endorsement” in authoritarian systems involves little or no separation of news and editorial sides and strives to maintain social control by suppressing debate.
- Ansolabehere, S., Lessem, R., & Snyder, J. M., Jr. (2004). The political orientation of newspaper endorsements in US elections, 1940 –2002. Cambridge, MA: MIT. At http://econ-www.mit.edu/ files/1218, accessed September 13, 2007.
- Busterna, J. C., & Hansen, K. A. (1990). Presidential endorsement patterns by chain-owned papers, 1976 –1984. Journalism Quarterly, 67(2), 286 –294.
- Dalton, R. J., Beck, P. A., Huckfeldt, R., & Koetzle, W. (1998). A test of media-centered agenda setting: Newspaper content and public interests in a presidential election. Political Communication, 15(4), 463 – 481.
- Demers, D. (1996). Corporate newspaper structure, editorial page vigor, and social change. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 73(4), 857– 877.
- Esser, F. (1998). Editorial structures and work principles in British and German newsrooms. European Journal of Communication, 13, 375 – 405.
- Gaziano, C. (1989). Chain newspaper homogeneity and presidential endorsements, 1971–1988. Journalism Quarterly, 66(4), 836 – 845.
- Kahn, K. F., & Kenney, P. J. (2002). The slant of the news: How editorial endorsements influence campaign coverage and citizens’ views of candidates. American Political Science Review, 96, 381– 394.
- Kepplinger, H. M., Brosius, H.-B., & Staab, J. F. (1991). Instrumental actualization: A theory of mediated conflicts. European Journal of Communication, 6, 263 –290.
- Pritchard, D. (2002). Viewpoint diversity in cross-owned newspapers and television stations: A study of news coverage of the 2000 presidential campaign. Federal Communications Commission/Media Ownership Working Group. At http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/ attachmatch/DOC-226838A7.pdf, accessed September 13, 2007.
- Wackman, D. B., Gillmor, D. M., Gaziano, C., & Dennis, E. E. (1975). Chain newspaper autonomy as reflected in presidential campaign endorsements. Journalism Quarterly, 52(3), 411– 420.
- Wagenberg, R. H., & Soderlund, W. C. (1975). The influence of chain-ownership on editorial comment in Canada. Journalism Quarterly, 52(1), 93 – 98.