Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Boston Herald endorsement won’t sway voters, but does harm its own staff

When The Boston Herald’s editorial board endorsed President Donald Trump, multiple members of its reporting staff quickly distanced themselves from the paper’s opinion.

Reporter Andrew Callahan wrote in a tweet: “Today, the Herald’s small editorial group sure as hell doesn’t speak for me.”

It is common practice for journalists to avoid sharing their political beliefs with the public, because doing so can undermine their objectivity as a reporter. Even so, a foundational principle of the industry has become more nuanced with the onset of extremely polarized politics.

Angela Ao/DFP STAFF

Trump supporters are often seen as a class of their own. Their level of devotion to the Trump administration has taken conservative politics to new heights, so much so that some Republicans have chosen to turn their back on these supporters.

Backlash from the news staff comes as a surprise with the Herald’s known reputation as a conservative paper. But, readers clearly can’t make the generalization that all of its staff support those beliefs.

Journalists looking for work likely don’t discriminate against a publication for its political leaning without other major drawbacks to writing for that outlet.

Either way, these writers felt personally compelled enough, or maybe even scared enough of public backlash, to immediately distance themselves from any association with Trump.

As a result, they are effectively pushing forth their own political agenda, which is difficult to avoid in this situation. If they don’t speak up, then they are associated with a polarizing politician they fundamentally disagree with. There comes a time when one’s conscientiousness is worth more than political objectivity.

Readers unfamiliar with how the news media operates may not understand this endorsement was from the editorial board, which is separate from a paper’s reporters. It doesn’t help when all they see is a title declaring, “The Herald endorses Trump,” which inherently associates all staff members with this partisan opinion.

We know publications often lean left or right, but internal conflict is unavoidable, and that isn’t an inherently negative thing. Having a staff with diverse political beliefs can foster the kind of discussion that helps maintain a balanced reporting direction.

But, this clear display of outrage from Herald reporters shows this endorsement crossed a line in their eyes. And with less than a week from the presidential election, the Herald missed the mark with this endorsement.

Besides a boastful tweet from Trump, it’s challenging to find any positive outcome from the editorial’s declaration of ardently supporting his re-election. Especially following the 2016 presidential election, when it did not endorse a candidate, the Herald’s decision seems unnecessary.

If its goal was to influence voters, more than 1 million Massachusetts residents have already voted, so it is unlikely this will change anyone’s mind — that’s a difficult endeavor this late in the election season.

Even though the Herald is viewed as a more conservative publication, its greater audience is the Boston community, where those who support Trump are sparse compared to many other states. A niche portion of subscribed readership may laud the endorsement, but the Herald is otherwise alienating a large portion of its audience.

That isn’t a wise decision for a paper trying to retain its local readers.

When The New England Journal of Medicine made its political debut with a scathing disapproval of the Trump administration, it made shockwaves in the industry. Although it wasn’t an official endorsement, the message was clear, and it was based on a sense of urgency to protect public health.

We cannot assume The Boston Herald held exclusive information that would make its endorsement particularly valuable or pertinent. The editorial group seemed concerned simply with the candidates’ platforms on taxes and the economy.

Whether it hoped to reach its small demographic of conservative readers or those who have yet to vote, its decision was clearly contested by some.

The Boston Herald should have put more thought toward the impact this endorsement would have on its staff and community.

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