This issue of Downtown Newsmagazine contains our Voter Guide to the August 2 primary election, along with our endorsements of candidates who have opposition in the upcoming vote to determine who will be the standard bearer for Democrats and Republicans in the November general election.
We have been producing a Voter Guide at Downtown Newsmagazine for all major elections in the past decade. In my case, this voter guide brings me close to 50 elections – primary and general – in which I have been part of producing information for voters in advance of election day.
Our Voter Guide and endorsements are included with our July print issue and at our website downtownpublications.com to provide information early in the election cycle for those voters who cast absentee ballots, an increasingly important portion of the voting public.
For a small publishing group, the Voter Guide is a major undertaking and consumes considerable time for weeks in advance of your receiving what we are providing in this July issue. The bulk of this work falls to news editor Lisa Brody and me, whether it is drafting relevant questions we send to candidates, processing responses from those running for office and getting this issue ready to upload to our printer.
Endorsements are another taxing undertaking, serving as the topic of nearly daily conversation weeks in advance of going to press with this issue.
On the local level, Downtown Newsmagazine is the only publication that still hews to the traditional role by providing recommendations on candidates appearing on the ballot, with the exception of the two Detroit daily newspapers, although there is debate on a national basis that suggests that those days could be numbered.
In early June as we were toiling away on this issue, The Washington Post reported that a number of national newspaper chains were looking to end the practice of providing editorial opinion pages and guest commentary, mainly as a cost saving measure in the challenged print industry. Among those cited was the Gannett Company which publishes USA Today and 250 daily newspapers in the country, among them the Detroit Free Press. The major newspaper chain is not mandating elimination of editorial opinion but is recommending individual publications make the determination. Internal research reportedly shows that editorial opinion is the least read of anything appearing in a given issue, so as the logic goes, eliminate the cost of producing that part of the newspapers. Tragic.
Newspapers as we know them today took shape in the early days of the 18th century as part of the colonial formation of the country. It was in the 19th century that editorial pages began a regular daily offerings in the newspapers, which are often credited with the formation of political factions and parties who often used print products to get their political messages out to the masses.
There was a point in time, even as recent as 40 years ago, that newspapers carried considerable weight when it came to influencing public opinion, especially at election time. But the introduction of the internet and the explosion of social media provided an opportunity for most anyone to get into the game of offering opinions on anything. Add to that the introduction of big money – and certainly dark money – into the election arena and the rules of the game changed dramatically. So the influence of newspapers’ editorial page opinions has certainly been diminished.
However, we are traditionalists at Downtown Newsmagazine, whether it applies to editorial opinion or the nature of news that we provide each week on our website and in our monthly print product.
We have not adopted the policies and attitudes of many publishing groups, including those locally, who gauge what types of stories to follow based on the amount of website traffic that gets generated. On the coverage front, I reject the click-bait approach to determining what we will provide our readers, either online or in print. I take a traditional approach to what we do here which is to provide hard news coverage of the government as the bulk of what we cover, along with the longform stories that we provide. Call me outdated, but I believe we have an obligation to provide information in hopes of informing residents. Informed members of the public can then decide if and how to react to what the government is doing. It keeps our democracy healthy.
Likewise, we take a similar view of the editorial page – Endnote – which appears at the back of each issue of Downtown Newsmagazine.
We take our endorsements of candidates very seriously, spending endless days discussing and parsing the information provided by the candidates, combined with our historical perspective on issues and knowledge we have or gather on those running for office. We readily admit that we are only one voice in the community, but we like to think we are probably one of the more informed parties in the debate.
As general policy, we often have to set aside our personal litmus test issues when it comes to issues. No candidate has to check all the boxes to agree with us on all issues. Our simple test is who in a candidate field can best provide overall representation for local residents.
I will forewarn readers that with this issue we have laid down a marker when it comes to our endorsements. As we note on our editorial pages this month, as a matter of policy, we will not give our endorsement to any candidate who does not accept the results of the 2020 election. If someone running for office lives in an alternate reality which includes the belief that the 2020 national election was somehow stolen or rigged, after countless audits, recounts and court rulings to the contrary, then we will not help advance that person to a position of power where they could inflict further damage to our democracy which is already teetering on the edge, thanks to this vocal subset of the general population.
As the hue and cry of minority opinion continues to drown out the majority, I am drawn to a quote from science fiction writer and Boston University biochemistry professor Isaac Asimov: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.”
VOTER GUIDE NOTE: Our thanks go out to Signature Sotheby’s International Realty in Birmingham, and owner Doug Hardy, for stepping up to be the community sponsor of the primary election Voter Guide. His financial support helped reduce the substantial costs of providing a 34-page guide to the primary election. An occasional sparring partner with me when it comes to political/social issues, Doug Hardy and I both agree that providing to voters the candidates’ views on the issues is critical.