Making endorsements relevant in the digital age

The Boston Globe and The New York Times today endorse Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for president and vice president. No surprise, of course. But the two editorials — especially the Globe’s — are indications of how newspapers are trying to keep the hoary old tradition of endorsements relevant in the 21st century.

First, it’s early. Traditionally, newspapers endorse as close to Election Day as possible, partly for maximum impact, partly to reduce the number of days that their news reporters have to labor under the burden of reporting fairly on candidates whom their paper’s opinion pages had spurned.

No more. These days, Election Day is merely the last day that you can vote. Early voting and mail-in balloting are already under way. If endorsements are going to have any influence at all, they need to be published before the majority of people have voted. And that’s now.

Second, digital media often obliterate the distinction between news and opinion. At large papers like the Times and the Globe, the editorial and news operations are separate. And sure enough, the front pages of today’s print editions don’t even mention that their editorial pages are endorsing — not even in the teases at the bottom of the page.

Yet the Times home page notes that the editorial section is endorsing Biden, a function of the Times’ opinion highlights in the right-hand rail. And the Globe actually leads the home page with its endorsement (see above). Savvy news consumers, especially those who came of age during the print era, won’t be confused. But not everyone is a savvy news consumer.

Third, though the Times endorsement is pretty old-fashioned and straightforward, the Globe’s is innovative — an attempt, no doubt, to get beyond the reality that everyone knew the Globe was going to endorse Biden. They’ve given the editorial a vibrant digital treatment. More interesting still, they’ve got 12 separate mini-editorials addressing different types of voters — the “business voter,” the “disenchanted Trump voter,” the “religious voter” and the like.

I’ve always doubted that newspaper endorsements can sway voters in presidential races; they are more influential in less visible contests in which readers don’t necessarily know much about the candidates. But Globe editorial-page editor Bina Venkataraman and her crew deserve credit for breaking out of the box of the old-fashioned endorsement.

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