Newspaper editorials have only limited influence. Even at the peak of the traditional media's influence, most readers never glanced at the editorial page. Declining circulation has further eroded their impact. Nevertheless, there are certain circumstances where they make a difference. In New York, for instance, the endorsement of the New York Times can affect Democratic primaries for downballot races. At Politicker, David Freedlander writes:
The Times’ coverage of local politics has shrunk in recent years with the closing of the Metro section, but the paper’s ability to make or break candidates has grown. In conversations with nearly two dozen political operatives, office holders and candidates, the consensus was that The Times remains the biggest single factor in deciding who gets elected in this town. The paper’s imprimatur carries more weight than even the biggest unions. Pollsters estimate that a Times endorsement can boost a candidate anywhere between 5 and 20 points. Politicos say that it is worth the equivalent of out-raising your opponent by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“In Manhattan, I have colleagues who obsess over it,” said one City Councilman. “There are people here who, everything they do in public life, they gauge how The New York Times will react.”
There are, to be sure, local races in African-American or immigrant neighborhoods where getting The Times’ nod doesn’t much matter. But because of its sway in the whiter and more affluent parts of the city, which have the highest concentration of voters, the paper’s backing ends up being the primary factor in who gets elected to citywide and most boroughwide offices. And because Democratic primaries in New York State are so dominated by those voters—plus those in the affluent suburbs where the signature blue plastic bag is the must-have driveway accessory, the endorsement is the biggest prize for statewide races, too.
Back in the day, campaign staffers used to camp out at a newsstand across from the Times Building, or at another on Christopher Street where the first editions were plopped down at midnight. Today, the news comes via Google News alert on campaign blackberries, leading to virtual midnight celebrations.
But even still, the endorsement remains a vestige of an earlier era.
“When I was going to elementary school I was taught that if you don’t know who is running, you bring The New York Times into the voting booth with you and you vote that way,” said George Arzt, a local consultant also thought to carry great sway with the board. “There are a lot less publications than there were then, but they are still dominant.” [emphasis added]