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Opening up the endorsement process

Since the founding of this country, American newspapers have used their editorial pages (and, yes, sometimes even their news pages) to try and influence elections.

Early newspaper endorsements often reflected the partisan leanings of the publications. Some early papers were unabashedly Whig or Federalist. Later, they divided between staunchly Republican or proudly pro-Democrat.

Opinions tended to run strong. In 1860, for example, the New York Times gave its stamp of approval on a Republican presidential candidate “age 51, height six feet seven, by profession Rail-Splitter.” With his election, they argued:

“We shall have honesty and manliness instead of meanness and corruption in the Executive departments, and a decent regard for the opinions of mankind in the tone and talk of the Government on the subject of Slavery.”

The choices usually were those of the owner (who often was the publisher). Over time, the practice of establishing staff “editorial boards” was adopted and continues to this day at most papers.

A few papers, however, have begun adding community members to their editorial board. In Washington, for example, two community members sit on the five-person editorial board at The Olympian. And, closer to home, the Newberg Graphic draws on several community members to help the paper determine its positions on local races or issues.

Initially, the thought of letting non-employees have a say in our editorials struck me as odd. After all, my reporters and editors follow local issues more closely than most people. They are trained to look at issues objectively. Why would we open up the process?

The answer comes down to one word: trust.

Adding non-staff members to our editorial board could lead to better discussions and, in turn, better decisions.

More important, it brings a bit of the community into its “community newspaper.”

Rather than entrust these important decisions to one or two people, we’d have a panel whose members better reflect the community we serve.

Given the big field of candidates vying for the Forest Grove City Council and the mayor’s post, I decided to test the idea with some people whose opinions I value.

Their responses were very encouraging, so a couple weeks ago I recruited three people to join Managing Editor Nancy Townsley and Commentary Editor Doug Burkhardt to form an editorial board for the city races.

When the paper held its endorsement meeting last Thursday evening at Pacific University, Nancy and Doug were joined by Carl Heisler, a former city councilor and local business owner; Kristy Kottkey, a teacher and former member of the city’s Committee for Citizen Involvement; and Cristina Delgado, a staff member at Adelante Mujeres who works with young Latina women.

After questioning the candidates and reviewing their written responses to other queries posed earlier, the five members of the board each shared their thoughts, listened to others’ views, and on Friday reached a consensus on the four candidates who received our endorsements.

I wasn’t part of the discussion, but heard that it was spirited, thoughtful and congenial.

I couldn’t ask for more.

With nine people running, that means there are five people who did not get our nod.

I expect they are disappointed, but I hope they (and our readers) understand that our decisions do not reflect the views of a single person or political ideology. Rather, our endorsements are the product of serious analysis by a panel of people who, like the candidates, are deeply invested in this community.

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