It’s perhaps only clear now, with the benefit of hindsight, but The Enid News & Eagle’s editorial endorsement of Hillary Clinton was some of the bravest journalism of 2016.
That Oct. 9 endorsement marked the first time the paper backed a Democrat for president in well over 100 years.
On Monday, The New York Times published its overview of the reverberations the endorsement continues to make: 162 subscriptions cancelled, 11 advertising accounts lost, vandalism of the office, personal threats to editorial board members.
Those on the inside of the newspaper industry since the new millennium have seen technology-based competition drive down readership, in turn reducing revenue, in turn reducing page counts, in turn decreasing staff levels and eventually creating consolidation as individual outlets become acquired by regional corporations.
In the face of those pressures, The Enid News & Eagle’s editorial decision becomes all the more laudable and courageous.
Interconnected demographics and revenue
The Eagle boasts a daily print readership of about 40,000 in a market with about 50,000 people, so that’s good penetration. The paper survives on a mix of local advertising with legacy businesses and traditional newspaper services (legal notices, obituaries, classifieds).
That small-town interconnectedness manages to keep The Enid News & Eagle’s business model viable, but it comes with a few caveats, namely:
- Don’t piss off the advertisers.
- Readers take the paper’s content very seriously.
The first point should be obvious. But because The Eagle is the kind of paper where readers will subscribe just to see little Johnny’s name printed in the paper, the second point highlights how community members take a certain personal ownership in the content of that paper. As Times writer Manny Fernandez quoted senior Enid News writer Jeff Mullin as saying, “In a small town like this, it’s their [readers’] newspaper.”
Doing what it thought was right
Was endorsing Clinton a risky editorial decision? You bet. Has it had negative impacts on the paper’s business interests? Apparently so, and to a substantial degree, but that’s what makes it so commendable: Despite the unpopularity of the Democratic candidate in its market, The Eagle backed her anyway because it could not, in good conscience, endorse Donald Trump. (Trump ultimately topped Clinton in Garfield County 73.7 percent to 20.3 percent.)
The Enid News & Eagle didn’t take the mealy mouthed approach that at least one local rag opted for when it simply said, we refuse to choose. Likewise, the Enid News didn’t take the safe way out by towing the party line.
In the end, the Enid paper’s editorial board deserves praise for doing what it felt was the right thing.
Unfortunately for their business, no good deed goes unpunished.