As I may have mentioned, I sent e-mails to several friends with experience with endorsements to see what they thought about whether bradwarthen.com should endorse candidates in the upcoming elections.
One of those I contacted was my old shipmate Mike Fitts (not to be confused with Mike Pitts, please). As I said back when Mike left the paper, he was always very good at helping us focus our discussions when we were trying to make up our minds about something. In fact, the examples I cited of Mike doing that had to do with endorsements. So I was particularly interested to read this reply from Mike:
I think you should continue to give your opinions on the candidates in your conversational, bloggy way. Hold forth your view and let the discussion roam with your readers.
Don’t think you should do a formal ‘endorsement,’ though. Why shove yourself into that formatted box in a free-form medium such as a blog? ‘Endorsement’ sounds stilted coming from a newspaper, much less a blog. It also has the risk of making you look like a man in a suit standing outside the gates of his former employer, waiting to be let back in…
And you know, I’m starting to lean in Mike’s direction on this.
As he usually does, he’s put his finger on a couple of key points. The official endorsement is a stiff, formal affair, as rigid in its way as the welcoming ceremony for an admiral coming up the starboard side (these nautical references are for Mike’s benefit, by the way). All man-ropes and sideboys and the stamp and clash of Marines presenting arms while the tropical sun turns their faces as red as their uniforms, constrasting sharply with the pipeclayed white of their belts…
OK, I’ll stop now.
Back to the topic: Endorsements are institutional. One of my grimmer duties as editorial page editor (as grim as ordering a dozen lashes for a defaulter — oops, there I go again…) was insisting that we endorse in all contested races, no matter how much work or stress in coordinating schedules (most elections called for more than 50 interviews; each one required coordinating my schedule with the candidates plus at least one other board member, and on the bigger, statewide or national, races, the entire board). And then there was the painful process of dragging the board through making the more difficult decisions, the ones we’d sooner let lie. Because the principle was, since one of these people was going to be elected, and since the voters had to choose, so did we.
And while we were always honest with readers about our chosen candidate’s drawbacks, and the opponent’s good qualities, there was something a bit forced and stiff about many endorsements: We hereby dub thee… and so forth.
Which is a very newspaperish, a very “leading voice in the community” kind of thing.
Meanwhile, a blog is free-form. On a blog, even when I was with the paper, I let my hair down and said what I thought more freely than I did in the paper — which caused zampolit Cindi and others to call me to my duty, to remember that all that I said reflected upon the board and its dignity, etc.
Well, I’m not being paid to be that any more.
So what I’m leaning toward is just being very frank with y’all about what I think about candidates (as always), without requiring myself to go through that formal, pompous, “ta-da!” moment that is an endorsement, with all the attendant hoopla and hype.
That’s what I’m thinking right now, anyway…