The run-up to an election is an especially hectic time for candidates, campaign staffs — and newspaper editorial boards. For the latter, it means a barrage of candidates, good and bad, coming and going; a serious societal responsibility as voter surrogates; and a number of tough calls. It also means missed or hurried lunches and unforgiving daily deadlines.
Take it from Tampa Tribune Editorial Page Editor Ed Roberts. Please. His phone is on permanent voice mail these days because of the predictable onslaught of calls, many less than polite, representing all those not endorsed by the Trib .
“This is a very tough time for us,” acknowledges Roberts. “We have to get out our opinion pages every day. We have to schedule the candidates one right after the other. It’s that time, and it’s our job.”
Which begs the question: how much impact does this job have?
It depends on the race, say both Roberts and Robert Friedman, deputy editor of editorials for the St. Petersburg Times . The bigger the race, the less the impact.
“For example, voters don’t need us for information on presidential candidates,” notes Friedman. “For constitutional amendments and the more obscure races, it’s more important.”
According to Roberts, “It’s very important for judges, school board and county commission,” where voters are often relatively uninformed.
“The real problem,” adds Roberts, “is where we have a race where we don’t like any of the candidates. Then we have to pick the lesser or least of the evils out there. So then we make it a point that we are perhaps less than enthusiastic on a particular endorsement.”
And speaking of endorsements, ever notice that where the Trib “endorses,” the Times “recommends.” The difference?
“I never really thought about it,” says Roberts. “When we endorse, it is a (well-researched) suggestion not a command.”
Explains Friedman: “From what I’ve been told, it goes back to (founder) Nelson Poynter. In his mind, ‘recommend’ meant this is the person we believe is the best choice of those available. ‘Endorse’ meant to embrace and vouch for — as in character — which is beyond just recommending.”
Now you know.