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Why we endorse

Nearly two years of presidential campaigning is drawing to a close, and most newspapers across America -- including this one -- have endorsed a candidate. Starting Monday, The Buffalo News will run a series of editorials stating our recommendations in local races, as well.

We will hear from readers happy with our choices, and readers upset by them. We welcome that, and will publish a sampling of their counter-arguments in our print editions and an unlimited number of their responses to the Web edition blogs that will accompany each endorsement editorial. Our main purpose, on the editorial pages at this newspaper, is to inform and influence -- and that mission is not limited to our own editorials. We host a marketplace of ideas.

But we will also hear from readers upset that we would dare to tell them how to vote. Which has only one possible response -- we don't. A newspaper endorsement, a long-standing tradition of both American journalism and the American democratic political process, is not a directive, it's a recommendation. We offer our recommendations as one of many tools informed voters can consider in reaching their own voting decisions. Only you can make a choice in the voting booth.

Nor do we consider party affiliation as a major determinative factor. We will endorse both Democrats and Republicans this year, as we have in the past. Our choices are made on policies, and on comparisons between candidates' views and our own -- and, more than anything else, on which candidate in each race we believe in the final analysis is the best person to do the job.

We offer our recommendations not just because we can -- that power is enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and it's not limited just to newspapers -- but because we believe we have a responsibility to do so. Few of our readers have the time or resources to spend hours in researching candidates, or the access to talk to reporters or officials or other lawmakers about them. We spend much of our working lives analyzing policy decisions and the work of lawmakers, so we cannot abrogate our responsibility to weigh in on the most basic policy decision of all, the electorate's selection of the lawmakers themselves.

David Holwerk, editorial page editor at the Sacramento Bee, argues that very clearly: "The First Amendment isn't there to guarantee our right to publish recipes and stories about football, important as those things may be to our readers. It's there to guarantee the right to take sides in elections. Endorsing is a basic function of the press in our democracy. If we abandon it, we are abandoning one of our primary reasons for existing."

American journalism, in fact, is rooted in the writings of colonial editors who had opinions about British rule and the courage -- not yet shielded by the Constitution -- to print them. Over time, newspapering evolved into consciously separated functions of news reporting and opinion writing. The news side seeks objectivity, and the opinion side (mostly notably the daily editorial and op-ed pages under the "Opinions" title) strive to be fair but -- well, opinionated. We try to persuade people, and recommending candidates is part of that effort.

The way Americans get information is changing. There is a world of opinion on the Internet, and a well of argumentation on talk radio and television. What sets us apart -- still -- is the depth of our involvement in this community as an institutional citizen, and an integral part of its rises and falls, since the 1880s. That involvement infuses all of our editorials, adding both weight to opinions delivered with the institutional voice of the newspaper and responsibility for the preservation of the credibility it has built up over time.

We take that responsibility seriously, and our endorsement process is long and often grueling for the writers involved. We do extensive research and talk to people who can provide insights into issues and the candidates. Almost all of the candidates in the races we cover accept our invitations for face-to-face meetings. We interviewed nearly 40 candidates in the 20 races we looked at this year, and have interviewed as many as 80 in heavier campaign seasons. And our six-person editorial board -- representing the paper's ownership, senior editors and the editorial writers who are its top policy analysts -- engages in sometimes contentious debates before deciding the paper's recommendations, a process that can take, cumulatively, hours.

Not all newspapers still do that. A very few have stopped endorsing candidates altogether, for reasons ranging from logistical difficulties to subscription cancellations. A few more now endorse only in local elections. The debate rages nationally among editorialists, each election cycle.

But most papers adhere to the responsibility, and the tradition. There are, of course, glitches -- for example, we sometimes end up endorsing an incumbent we've criticized, along with "business-as-usual" government, during the course of a year. But, like all voters, we have to make the best choice before us at the time -- and often in this era of expensive campaigns, political parties target some races and don't seek the best possible candidates, or give good candidates the necessary resources, to mount competitive challenges in others. That's a flaw in the system, but it's not an excuse to avoid a choice.

Over the past six weeks, we have looked hard at 20 races, talked to the candidates and the community, and argued our way to our choices. We now are offering those choices as recommendations. Weigh them as you will -- but do take part in this vitally important democratic process.

Mike Vogel

Editorial Page Editor

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