There it was, in the Press Democrat: the announcement that under new rules from its current owners Halifax Media Acquisition LLC, the longest-running daily newspaper of record for the North Coast is no longer allowed to endorse candidates for elected office.
As an editor sometimes at odds with the Press Democrat's recommendations, I might be misconstrued to find some amount of joy in this news. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Since Halifax's purchase of the Press Democrat from the New York Times in December of last year, the word from the big building on Mendocino Avenue is that everything's stayed the same. Sure, we know that Halifax has a no-jeans dress code and that family members are barred from working in the same newsroom (a rule presumably grandfathered for the several married employees at the Press Democrat). But despite initial concern that the Florida-based company might impose a conservative bent on the content of the Press Democrat, Paul Gullixson, Jim Sweeny and the rest of the paper's editorial board have been allowed to do what they've always done.
Election recommendations, done responsibly, are long work. All candidates must be interviewed one-on-one. Research on the issues and candidates' backgrounds is required. A board then convenes to discuss, and finally the recommendation is written.
That's the only reason you don't find candidate recommendations in the Bohemian. With our shoestring, part-time editorial staff and expansive, three-county coverage area, we cannot possibly do proper justice in recommending candidates within the areas we serve. The Press Democrat, with its larger staff and resources, certainly can—and has, for years.
In its own announcement of the policy change, the PD's spin was to emphasize the old journalism saw of "giving readers the information they need to make decisions for themselves." But make no mistake: this is a gag order from a faraway company, and one that's shown dubious ethics. (In 2011, the owner even encouraged his news reporters to sell advertising.)
This is the first major change we've seen imposed on the Press Democrat by its new owners, and it's not a good one.
Gabe Meline is the editor of this paper.
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