Of papers and politics

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun I’m sure you’ll be shocked by this, dear readers: your editor is a nerd who has a tradition of coloring in her electoral map while watching the returns. In a bar.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
I’m sure you’ll be shocked by this, dear readers: your editor is a nerd who has a tradition of coloring in her electoral map while watching the returns. In a bar.

Emily C. Skaftun
The Norwegian American

In this ridiculous election year, in which all bets seem to be off and norms of civilized discourse optional, the role of the press has really come into question.

I would not be the first writer to point out, to lament, really, what harm the 24-hour cable news cycle has done to our society. It’s not worth pointing fingers about particular outlets anymore; the horror of punditry has thoroughly infected all of them. The relentless need for sensational content, for ratings, leads inevitably to the sort of lazy, overblown “coverage” that makes watching the news intolerable.

At least, I find it intolerable. My pulse goes crazy when I’m within 10 feet of the talking heads and their endless analysis and tail-chasing analysis of the analyses.

The obvious solution is to turn off the TV. I don’t just say this as a newspaper editor, but perhaps print media still has something to offer that other media just can’t? At the very least, it’s a calmer way to get the news—there is never anyone literally shouting out of a newspaper.

Newspapers have been getting into this unusual election in unprecedented ways. It’s not uncommon, of course, for newspapers to officially endorse one candidate or another. What is unusual is how early some of these endorsements were written, the vehemence of some, and the sheer lopsidedness of which candidate is endorsed—or argued against.

Most papers haven’t gone as far as The Huffington Post, which includes an editor’s note at the end of all stories about Trump stating that he “regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims—1.6 billion members of an entire religion—from entering the U.S.”

But at the time I’m writing this (exactly three weeks to election day), the Republican candidate has only three endorsements, from relatively minor papers.

Meanwhile, the Democratic candidate has been officially recommended by well over 100, including outlets that have either never endorsed a candidate before (like the USA Today) or have never before endorsed a Democrat.

The editors of The Arizona Republic, never having thrown support to a Democrat in 126 years of publication, have received numerous threats of violence and been literally spit on as they went to work. I guess it goes without saying that they also lost a number of subscribers along the way to threats of bombing.

I’ve been asked a number of times whether this newspaper would be making an endorsement. I’ve typically laughed these off, claiming that we only deal with Norwegian politics, not American. But that’s far from the whole truth. We live and publish and are primarily read in the U.S., and though I do often find myself better informed on the political goings-on of Norway than those of the U.S., this is an American newspaper.

We’re obviously an American newspaper, because if we were a Norwegian newspaper we would be subsidized to some degree by that government. We’ve asked them for support. They declined.

If we were a Norwegian newspaper, acting out our government mandate to objectively inform the populace, I believe we would be discouraged from taking an official stance in a political race, but then again we’d be dealing with a whole different system, and that is another article entirely (one you can find at www.norwegianamerican.com/featured/how-norwegians-do-it-national-elections-in-norway/).

Being an American newspaper, we don’t even get non-profit tax breaks!

And therein lies the truth of the endorsement question for us. While we love publishing controversial opinions of all kinds, it has been the position of this editor only to do so with the disclaimer that they are not our opinions, not the opinions of The Norwegian American. The reason for this is as simple as it is cowardly: we rely on subscriptions for about three-quarters of our revenue, and we therefore simply cannot afford to drive anyone away.

I could rationalize that statement any number of ways. I could hide behind heritage, claiming that by shying away from potentially disruptive opinions I’m trying to preserve this, the last Norwegian newspaper in America. But that’s a tricky claim to make, isn’t it, when I’m also protecting my livelihood?

And so The Norwegian American is not going to make an official endorsement.

Instead we just suggest that we all reflect on Norway, and on America, and on those values both countries embrace that make us both great nations. We all have to choose for ourselves which candidate we feel best upholds those values and make ourselves heard at the ballot box this Tuesday.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 4, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.