The headline on every mainstream news site and political blog in America today is that Newt Gingrich has won the all-important endorsement from the highly influential Union Leader. For anyone who has followed politics the last 40 years, these articles are relevant and make “sense” in the traditional political narrative.
But time out; let’s take a pop quiz: when is the last time you read a newspaper editorial endorsement of, well, anything? I’ve been a huge news junkie and have read newspaper Op-Ed pages, including lead editorials since the 1970s. But somewhere along the line, I think it was about 2009, I just stopped reading editorials. It’s not that I read less. In fact through the beauty of my RSS feed and great sites like Dailykos.com I read more political news coverage, columnists and analysis than I would have ever dreamed possible as a kid (yes, sadly this is what I dreamed of as a kid).
So what’s changed? Only a few years ago, I would read the paper version of the New York Times at Starbucks every morning and that would include reading favorite columnists like Paul Krugman and Frank Rich on the Op-Ed page and that would get me in eyesight of the editorials so I would scoop in briefly most days.
But now, I just subscribe to the Paul Krugman RSS feed. In fact I can subscribe to his Times blog feed so now I read his thoughts several times a day. So I’m reading more Times “content” than ever before, but I haven’t read one of its editorials in years. Am I a statistical outlier? Or are more and more people like me?
It strikes me that this fascination with editorial board endorsements is a relic of a bygone era when information about candidates was limited, restricted and constrained. Voters leaned on editorial boards for information because there really was no way of getting enough info about candidates to make an informed judgment—hence reliance on the wise men (and they were usually men) who had sat down for an interview with the candidates and who could properly size them up. Well, those days are long gone. Anyone with an interest in learning about political candidates can gorge on news and blog coverage 24 hours a day for years before an election.
When it comes to Presidential elections, editorial endorsements have become as relevant as whistle stop train tours and bumper stickers—something people still do because they feel they have to, not because they are really meaningful activities that have an impact anymore.