Some Changes in the Editorial Pages
We are going to make some changes on these editorial pages and we want to explain as fully as we can what are doing and why we are doing it.
First a word about the evolving relationship of a newspaper to its community. Most of the early newspapers of this country were partisan organs. In most cities each party and each faction of a party had its paper. The papers fought each other, and each other’s politicians, with zest and gusto. The editorialswhich in The Times are the unsigned essays in these columnsusually reflected the highly personal views of the editor and/or publisher. So did the paper’s cartoonist. So did, much too often, the news columns. And advertisers sometimes placed their advertising strictly according to party prejudice.
By the turn of the century a more comprehensive paper was emerging. It sought a wider audience than the audience afforded by party or faction. Advertisers understood the value of mass communications. And publishers and editors came to see that full and honest news coverage was required by a public becoming better educated and interested in more aspects of life and public affairs.
This trend toward the comprehensive newspaper has continued to the present day. With it has come a shrinkage in the number of large metropolitan newspapers. Los Angeles now has two. In 1915 it had seven. Los Angeles is typical.
With the development of fewer and larger metropolitan newspapers came both a decline in partisanship and an increased effort by newspapers to look behind the daily flow of surface events to examine their causes and consequences. This attempt to put events into context is more useful to readers than a mere account of daily eventsin fact it is essentialbut it is also much more difficult to do well. It requires professionalism and good judgment and above all a sense of fairness. No newspaper without a strong sense of fairness can call itself great or even good.
As The Times has evolved and changed, so have its editorial pages. Once we were highly partisan; now we call ourselves politically independent.
Our outlook on public affairs is skeptical but progressive. We are convinced by experience that progress in the social order has been achieved and will continue. We prefer trial and error to dogmatism, pragmatism and ideology.
Our profoundest allegiance is to the spirit of free inquiry. Our deepest optimism and strongest hopes spring from our fundamental belief in the spirit of liberty and its secure future in the American democracy.
These are general propositions. They are not easily translated into a particular position on any matter of current public affairs. So we try, in these editorials, to examine a question from all sides, to outline it as best we can in a brief space, and then to present our own conclusions. If thereby we persuade others to our view, so much the better. We hope at least to stimulate the thoughts of others.
We have decided therefore that The Times shall no longer routinely endorse candidates for president, for governor, or for senator. We have decided also to move our editorial cartoonist, Paul Conrad, to the page opposite this page. Consequently we shall increase the space given to Letters to The Times.
Political endorsements present two principal obstacles. One touches the news coverage of the paper, the other the editorial views expressed on this page.
Though we insist on strict severance between the editorial views of the paper on the one hand, and news coverage and news judgment on the other, the two tend to become confused in the minds of some readers. They find it hard to believe that this newspaper’s editorial page endorsements really don’t affect the news columns. This is especially so when the paper endorses a candidate in those elections that arouse the sharpest political passionsfor president, for governor, for senator. And the endorsement of a candidate inevitably colors the readers’ views of our subsequent editorial opinions.
At the same time we recognize the newspaper’s obligation, as a responsible member of the community, to stand and be counted on important issues.
So we have sought to strike a balance between this obligation and the need for credibility in The Times’ news content and editorial positions.
We believe that the wide public exposure of the candidates for the top three partisan offices makes our judgment on these dispensable; our readers have more than ample information on which to make up their own minds.
For other offices and issues, however, it seems to us that our community obligation is foremost, so we shall continue to offer our recommendations on theseas we shall under exceptional circumstances for the top three offices as well.
The difficulties created for a newspaper by the presence of a cartoonist are like those created by endorsement of major candidates. Because the cartoon occupies a prominent position on the page where the institutional voice of the newspaper is expressed, the cartoon tends to color both the opinions expressed in these editorials, and the dispassionate news coverage we attempt to achieve. The Times is fortunate to have the cartoonist we consider the best now working. Paul Conrad is brilliant, provocative and incisive. It will come as no surprise to our readers to hear that sometimes Paul Conrad speaks for The Times, and sometimes not. As he is fond of saying, he works in black and white; the editorial writers work in shades of gray. Nuances in a point of view can destroy a cartoon’s effectiveness, but they are essential to an expression of opinion based on the spirit of moderation. We believe that by displaying Conrad’s cartoon on the opposite page, where many points of view not our own are given free play, we shall lessen the risk of confusing the voice of The Times with the pen of Conrad. With these as the aspirations of The Times’ editorial page, we have found ourselves increasingly uncomfortable with the two elements we are coming to consider anachronisms. One is the habitual endorsement of political candidates. The other is the presence of a political cartoonist on the editorial page itself, next to these unsigned essays that express the views of The Times.
So too we believe that by abandoning the practice of habitual political endorsements for the major offices we shall strengthen the ability of this newspaper to comment on the issues and candidates in an election with impartial vigor.
We believe that both these changes will enhance The Times’ position as an independent and fair-minded newspaper.