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Times endorsements: When, where, why?*

The Times' editorial board started publishing its endorsements in early August, but not all readers have seen them. Subscriber John Nisley of El Segundo wrote to say he was voting by mail and wanted to get the L.A. Times recommendations for state propositions now. Allan Mason of Hermosa Beach sounded the same theme: "Every year I find your election endorsements very helpful. BUT they would be even better if they came a little earlier than the weekend before the election. So many of us are absentee voters now, and we want to mail out ballots well before the deadline -- often before you publish your recommendations. So please consider pushing them up a little."

Pamela Lang of Burbank is one reader who had no problem finding The Times' endorsements. However, as she suggested in an e-mail, she didn't want them: "I noticed you published your latest list of political 'endorsements' and I'm not happy about it. Isn't the job of the Los Angeles Times to report the news and leave the political decision-making to a well-informed public? Is The Times attempting to influence the outcome of an incredibly important election? How can the voters trust that your political endorsements aren't swayed by the owner of your paper, or their corporate needs? Please, don't presume to know what's best for me. Leave that decision to me. I trust your readers will make the decisions that are in their best interests, as well."

The Times provides both: The editorial board produces endorsements, and the newsroom reports the information on which readers can base their decisions. The California section has been running stories on initiatives and ballot measures all fall and plans to publish its Voter Guide this Sunday (as a post on this journal in January explained, these guides are intended be a thorough summary of the news reports).

The questions on endorsements, then: When, where and why? (And oh yes: Who?)

When

"Readers have perhaps missed endorsements as they were published in the paper and believed, incorrectly, that the recap we publish shortly before (and again on) Election Day was the first or only time we weighed in," wrote Robert Greene of the editorial board in an e-mail explaining it all. For the Nov. 4 election, The Times started endorsing on Aug. 8 and concluded last Friday -- in other words, most of the endorsements were done well before vote-by-mail ballots became available on Oct. 6. The editorial board is awaiting the final debate before recommending for president. (A Dennis McDougal opinion piece published Jan. 20 described why for the first time in decades The Times' editorial board is taking a stand on the presidential contest; an editorial in 2006 had announced the plan to endorse.)

[*Updated 10/17: The Times has announced its endorsement for Barack Obama.]

The list so far was republished in print last Saturday and will appear again in the days just before the election.

Where

As each endorsement was published, beginning in August, said Greene, they added to a compilation at latimes.com so that voters could keep up even if they missed it in the paper. There's more than one way for readers to find them: through the Opinion homepage at www.latimes.com/opinion and then to the endorsement box; or for a printable list, www.latimes.com/endorsements.

Why?

Wrote Greene, "As for the reader who is concerned about our endorsing, I would remind her that making election recommendations has always been and continues to be a fundamental role of a daily newspaper. Just as with all of our editorials, endorsement decisions are made with complete independence from our news operation. Editorials are written by a staff that reports directly to the publisher, not to the editor or the newsroom. Likewise, the newsroom does its work independently of us and is untainted by our advocacy and opinion. As we say as part of our mission statement, 'On the editorial page, the newspaper sets aside its objective newsgathering role to join its readers in a dialogue about important issues of the day -- to exhort, explain, deplore, mourn, applaud or champion, as the case may be.'"

Jim Newton, editor of the Editorial Pages, added that endorsements are the result of essentially the same process that produces all other editorials in The Times, which is to say they reflect the collective view of the editorial board. “In the case of endorsements,” he said, “once we’ve heard from various advocates or candidates, the board discusses the issue or race and attempts to fashion a position that we consider constructive and in tune with our basic values.” The membership of that board is always evolving, but here’s a link to the current group.

Finally, this vote of confidence from reader Emilie Mason of La Verne, who saw Saturday's compilation in print: "I'm glad that you printed earlier the Times endorsements of judges, local measures and state propositions. I vote absentee and always consult the Times endorsements before mailing my ballot.  This year I was able to complete my ballot earlier and get it in to the mail."

But wait ... there's more: "Vote-O-Rama"

"Vote-O-Rama" at www.latimes.com/elections, compiled by editors on the editorial pages, provides Times endorsements but also online sites where one can register to vote, obtain a vote-by-mail ballot, view a sample ballot, and find the proper polling place, the full text of the ballot measures, the official summaries and analyses, the official pro-and-con arguments, links to Times news stories and blog posts on election subjects, data on other elections, such as the March 3, 2009, Los Angeles mayoral, City Council and school board election, and the 2010 gubernatorial election.

 
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