In the editorial I am dissenting against, my fellow board members call out the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s editorial board for refusing to endorse political candidates any longer. My fellow board members say this is because the Sentinel feels the consensus they would reach would hurt readership. I agree.
Personally, I question the validity of the reasons the Sentinel gives in its recent explanation for halting endorsements. These reasons are especially suspect when coupled with the fact that the Sentinel still reserves the rights to make endorsements in “rare” cases.
However, I feel strongly that the makeup of editorial boards needs to change, and for this reason, I agree with the Sentinel’s decision. While their motives may be unclear, their action is appropriate.
In The Badger Herald’s editorial, they point to the confusion readers feel about the relationship between an editorial board and a news staff. If readers do not realize that they are two separate things, my colleagues say, they need to be better educated.
As a student journalist, I do not presume people need to educate themselves about my profession. So let me lay it out: The Herald editorial board includes two members, two editorial editors, an independent editorial board chair and the three top management positions in the news department – the Editor-in-Chief, myself (Managing Editor) and the Editor-at-Large. The composition of the Sentinel’s board is similar, including the publisher, Editor-in-Chief and opinion page editor.
The public cannot understand why editorial boards and news coverage are not related because in our current system, they are. Take me, for example. Every Sunday and Monday night I have the final say on all news stories that appear in our paper. I also sit on an editorial board where I express my opinions on everything from gun control to city politics. In my mind, this is a major conflict of interest.
In our fast-paced media climate, people grow ever wary of the liberal or conservative monopoly on news coverage. Allowing editorial boards as they are composed – such as the Sentinel’s and the Herald’s – to weigh in on any given race only furthers this problem.
If the public feels a newspaper is biased, the burden of proof lies with the newspaper. If there is a disconnect for the public about the relationship between editorial coverage and news coverage, that is something a news organization needs to examine, not something it should demand the public come to terms with.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s decision was a slash-and-burn one. Instead of re-structuring their board to contain non-managerial, non-news staff members, as I feel they should have done, they nixed endorsements altogether. While this was perhaps too hasty, it was a step in the right direction.
So while the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s motives were shaky and its steps were drastic, I do believe they are correctly calling attention to a problem American newspapers struggle with – editorial boards and news coverage are more closely related than we as journalists would like to admit.
For this reason, I advocate the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pull all managerial staff from their board, replace them with a group of well-informed opinion columnists and resume endorsements at once. That way, there will be no confusion in the public’s mind on the role of the editorial board. Since it will contain no managerial staff, there will be a much smaller chance of bias entering the news section. I advise the same for the Herald, although the decision is not in my hands.
Taylor Nye (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in human evolutionary biology, archaeology and Latin American studies.