Say what? Lakeland’s Ledger editorial board no longer making candidate recommendations

By on September 3, 2012

Coupons and candidate recommendations. Aren’t those the two best features of a modern local newspaper? Yeah, yeah, yeah, some so-called “enterprise reporting” never hurts either.

Well, for readers of The Ledger (formerly The Lakeland Ledger) all that will be left in their newspaper are the coupons.

Citing an “effort to prevent a perception of bias in political races”, The Ledger‘s editorial board announced that is ending its series of editorials by which it has recommended candidates for election.

The Ledger, with an average weekday circulation of 41,309, has been making candidate recommendations for 88 years. But the practice is coming to an end because of the demands of new owners at Halifax Media Group, which purchased The Ledger on January 6.

Halifax CEO Michael Redding has called for all of the 34 Halifax newspapers, including The Ledger, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, The Gainesville Sun, The Ocala Star-Banner and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, to end candidate recommendations or endorsements in an Aug. 16 memo. “Endorsing and recommending candidates has the potential to create the idea we are not able to fairly cover political races,” Redding said. “Right or wrong, it is the perception.”

Further justification for ending these endorsements, explained in an editorial in Sunday’s Ledger, was to “bolster the … long-standing division between the Editorial Department and the News Department.”

But isn’t ending candidate endorsements in order to give readers confidence that news coverage is not tainted by opinion an admission that there isn’t or hasn’t been a “wall” between the editorial and news departments?

Voters depend on editorial boards to ask informed questions of candidates running for public office, especially in down-ballot races such as for judge or school board. Ending this questioning is an abdication of the trust readily given by voters to The Ledger.

Judging by the comments on The Ledger’s website and in social media, this decision is not going over well with the newspaper’s readers.

By abandoning the practice of making candidate recommendations, The Ledger is ceding part of its unique value. Media critics struggle to answer why ‘newspapers are dying.’ Yes, technology plays an enormous role in that. But self-inflicted wounds like this one at The Ledger only hasten the death of newspapers.

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