Frustrated Newspapers Are Dealing With the Fallout From Surprising Endorsements of Presidential Candidates

The media is also changing its tactics

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It's a whole new ballgame, folks. This election has reached a new level of bizarre, and newspapers and online journalists alike have had to adapt to a new, slightly more hostile environment.

"This election in general, and Donald Trump's behavior specifically, has tested a lot of the rules of how journalists cover campaigns," said Kyle Pope, the editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review, "because he's tested the rules for how a president should behave."

Historically, newspapers wait until one or two weeks prior to a general election to announce who their editorial boards are supporting.

This year, the Dallas Morning News endorsed Hillary Clinton for president on Sept. 7, at least 50 days before the normal time frame. Not only that, it was the first time the paper had endorsed a non-Republican candidate since before World War II. 

The Arizona Republic, another traditionally conservative paper, also recently endorsed Clinton for president. And it has literally never endorsed the Democratic nominee before.

In the 148-year history of the San Diego Union-Tribune, the paper has not endorsed a Democrat for president. Until now.

Bizarre decisions for a bizarre election.

After a "not great" convention couldn't hurt Trump's polling numbers, Pope speculated that that "might've really motivated the people to do what they could" in order to stop him. His staying power has surprised journalists.

"There's been a testing of new ground," said Pope, referencing the more aggressive Twitter personas he's seen reporters adopt, as well as their reporting style. "I don't buy the argument that there hasn't been aggressive reporting. Everyone is doing amazingly effective stories, but they just don't seem to be moving the needle at all."

Perhaps, following this line, political reporters from this season have become increasingly frustrated. That might explain why, as the Columbia Journalism Review discovered, journalists from the Washington Post took to Twitter to promote another blow against Trump's charity spending under the guise of Brangelina divorce gossip.

It's not pretty when the social media discourse becomes more focused on Hollywood celebrities rather than the political ones, especially in an already fraught election year.

According to an interview with Poynter, Mike Wilson, the Dallas Morning News editor, said the threats the newspaper received of subscription cancelations rang true. He didn't give specific numbers, but explained to Poynter in an email that they've "paid a price for our presidential recommendation, but then, we write our editorials based on principle, and sometimes principle comes at a cost."

The Arizona Republic has also faced subscription losses and even death threats, according to a local news broadcaster and USA Today (which endorsed anyone but Trump this year, a potentially bland or stifling move in a sea of more bold endorsements). 

Will readers stay away for long? Do editorial board endorsements actually ever affect voters?

"This election is polarizing, and people feel very strongly," said Pope. "If this one endorsement drives readers away, I'd be surprised." Maybe the readers who have already left might return, since "people read these papers for other things, too. There's a huge arts and culture scene in Phoenix, after all."

"This is a great story of journalism," he explained. "The fact that papers may be going against both history and their readers' inclinations shows an independence of thought that is really healthy."

Time will tell whether these bold endorsements will kick the newspaper/print journalism's downward popularity trend into high gear. For now, papers are trying to get ahead of the game when it comes to unconventional candidates.

@samimain Sami Main is social editor for Adweek, where she posts Adweek content onto social platforms and looks for creative ways to communicate what's new.