Why Bridge Magazine will never endorse candidates

Today’s Election Day, the end of a long and noisy campaign that may go into the books as the most expensive in Michigan history, with record-setting amounts of out-of-state and secret “dark” money flooding into Michigan.

As usual, there have been lots of endorsements by newspapers and other assorted organizations. The Detroit Free Press, Michigan’s largest paper, raised a few eyebrows by endorsing Republican Rick Snyder for governor, while the Detroit News self-admittedly broke its conservative editorial policy by endorsing Democrat Gary Peters for U. S. Senate.

Which raises the obvious question: How come Bridge Magazine, which certainly covers public policy and politics, doesn’t endorse in partisan political races?

It’s a reasonable question, for which there are several answers.

The first is that Bridge is a publication of the Center for Michigan. The Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation under the U. S. tax code. Our tax status forbids us from participating in partisan political activity, which includes editorial endorsements. We can examine policy ideas; we can even run accuracy checking Michigan Truth Squad posts. But outright partisan activity is a no-no.

The second reason Bridge doesn’t endorse candidates has nothing to do with the tax code but everything to do with the integrity and balance of the kind of journalism we practice at Bridge Magazine. Our job at Bridge is to run fact-based, non-ideological, fair minded, thoughtful stories that get at the how and why behind of the news, not just the surface stuff.

The absolute center of our work with Bridge rests in the integrity of our journalism and the trust this earns with our readers. We do not want to do anything – such as endorsing partisan political candidates – to damage these.

A common criticism of the news media is that a paper whose opinion page is, say, Democratic-leaning will therefore slant its news coverage to the left. In my experience, that happens very rarely – one of the highest values for a reporter still is to call ‘em as you see ‘em. But the fact is that the very existence of a partisan editorial page does contribute to questions about bias in news presentation.

That gets to the other practical reason why we hew so firmly to the nonpartisan middle of the road. The core of what we do at the Center is our public engagement work, which involves bringing together small groups of citizens into community conversations. These gatherings – which take place all over the state and involve people whose collective demography looks just like the face of Michigan – provide us with a way to bring forward the uncensored, unbiased opinions of ordinary Michigan citizens.

For the 30,000 Michiganders who have participated in our community conversations, this isn’t idle chatter. The priorities they express determine the priorities of the Center for Michigan, and their priorities and policy proposals that we bring to the halls of power represent the unvarnished views of thousands of Michigan citizens.

Our experience advocating for public policy in Lansing persuades us that we can be successful as long as the journalism in Bridge Magazine is perceived as accurate, fair and nonpartisan and our public engagement campaigns are regarded as an unbiased way to amplify citizens’ voices on the issues of our times.

So if the mission of the Center for Michigan is to make Michigan a better place and if we really want to be effective is carrying out this mission, it’s firmly in our interest not be regarded as biased or partisan.

Sure, we’re regularly criticized by lots of folks. On any given day of the week, we can be (and are) assaulted for being a bunch of lefty liberals and also as part of a vast right-wing conspiracy. So be it. That’s part of the turf when you’re persistently in the middle of the road.

But that’s where we are, come rain or shine. It’s an important part of our ability to get things done – remember, we’re a “think-and-do tank”. Which is why we’re not going to change our nonpartisan, non-ideological, fact-driven way of doing things.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Tue, 11/04/2014 - 10:31am
Thank you for your work for Michigan. I believe that Bridge is fulfilling a missing, yet vital, function in our society by reaching out to, engaging and motivating the people of Michigan to intelligently act in their own best interests.
Tue, 11/04/2014 - 2:51pm
I have to agree with Ronald statement we are lacking real journalism that providing residents with just he facts. Dale
John Mills
Thu, 11/06/2014 - 12:06am
Phil, when you owned a bunch of newspapers, they always did endorsements. Aside from being a 501c3 now, how is this different? You had no integrity with the Observer & Eccentric, but you all of a sudden do have integrity now?
Sun, 11/09/2014 - 10:20am
"The Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation under the U. S. tax code. Our tax status forbids us from participating in partisan political activity, which includes editorial endorsements.' Ha. There are thousands of 501(c)(3)s breaking that rule ALL the time. Have you seen any enforcement of the rule? Nope. The IRS tried and the whole issue got so misrepresented by the GOP and rightwing organizations that no government agency will try to enforce the actual rules (until they target only Democratic organizations only and then that will be 'ok' with the GOP).
Sun, 11/09/2014 - 8:16pm
Phil, I highly valued your columns when you were a newspaper owner, and I subscribe to Bridge largely to continue to get your insights. I certainly have my own leanings and biases; over the years, sometimes you have agreed with my opinions and sometimes differed, but your perspective has nearly always been thought-provoking. Endorsement, for me, isn't nearly as important as raising the issues I should be considering and providing columns addressing them. Thanks!