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THE OMBUDSMAN | CHRISTINE CHINLUND

Endorsement time: Who decides for the Globe?

THE GLOBE editorial page's endorsement of John Kerry last week did not exactly shock readers. The paper, after all, has a 36-year history of endorsing Democratic presidential nominees. Still, the process prompts questions.

"I have found myself wondering what it really means when the newspaper states `The Globe' endorses . . . ," wrote William Powers earlier in the campaign season. "How is the decision made -- by vote, by the senior editor? Why isn't the source named?" Other readers have asked if reporters covering the candidates decide the endorsement. (They don't.)

In the spirit of transparency, here's how it works:

The process begins with the eight members of the editorial board -- which is to say, all the writers of the daily editorials. The names of two -- editorial page editor Renée Loth and her deputy, Robert Turner -- appear on the page as part of the top brass. The remaining six, all veteran staffers, are nameless to readers; the editorials they write represent the institutional voice of the paper, and thus carry no byline.

To endorse in a local race, editorial board members interview candidates, attend debates, read position papers, and quiz the candidates on selected issues. Then the board sometimes takes a straw poll to advise Loth, who has the final say.

In the bigger races -- for president, US Senate, and governor -- publisher Richard Gilman joins the process and has final say. The board interviews the candidates when it can. Kerry came to the Globe during the primaries for an interview, but Bush has twice declined an invitation, says Loth. As part of an ongoing dialogue, the board makes its recommendation to Gilman, to accept or veto.

Not involved in the process: reporters who cover the campaign, or anyone else on the news side, from editor Martin Baron on down; the opinion page columnists; the Globe's corporate parent, the New York Times Co.

That The New York Times endorsed Kerry the same Sunday was, says Loth, "pure coincidence." Gilman says he didn't know about the Times endorsement until after the fact. Indeed, several other papers endorsed Kerry the same day.

Historically, Globe endorsements got a late start. Not until 1966 did the editorial page shed the mild tone espoused by the mythical writer "Uncle Dudley" and take tougher stands. The first presidential endorsement was for Hubert Humphrey in 1968. Each campaign year since, the editorial board has favored the Democratic presidential nominee, although Republicans have gotten the nod in other races. In 1980 it took the unusual step of endorsing both Jimmy Carter and Independent John Anderson for president.

Last week's endorsement of Kerry broke with tradition in a different way: It consisted of two editorials -- one making the case for Kerry, the other the case against Bush.

"Tradtionally we make an affirmative case for the candidate we are supporting and don't even mention the opponent," says Loth, but because this campaign is a referendum on Bush, the board wanted to address his performance. "We didn't want to muddy the waters of the Kerry endorsement with reason not to vote for Bush, so we separated the two," she said.

Why endorse at all? Most papers do, but some -- maybe one in three -- choose not to, and some readers prefer it that way. "It's my business who I vote for, not the paper's," reader Margaret Foley complained last week.

Where Foley sees intrusion, Loth sees obligation: "The Globe is forever exhorting the public to vote . . . and if we are going to ask people to make this choice . . . the least we can do is to decide ourselves, too."

A word about those Sox stories

A friend (and frequent Globe critic) came by recently to ask how on earth the Globe managed to deliver to his doorstep at 5:30 a.m. a full report of a Sox game that ended just a few hours earlier. "Incredible," he said.

Smart readers know when to give the paper credit.

Here's what went into last week's effort: Sports writers wrote their stories extra quickly -- as events unfolded for first edition, and in 30 minutes max for third edition. Between games, Sports editor Joe Sullivan and his staff produced what amounted to a daily special section with more about the playoffs than many readers would, in normal times, want to know. (These are not, of course, normal times.)

Meanwhile, the press schedule was rearranged to print more of the paper during the day, clearing the decks for the late game news to be produced at double speed, with a later deadline.

So when Game 4 ended at 1:22 a.m., third edition readers all got the final score on their doorstep. When Game 5 ended at 11 p.m., all papers carried the final score -- not always the case despite the paper's best efforts. And for Games 6 and 7, with their midnight finales, the final score reached all but those in the distant reaches of New England.

To readers, that means a lot. The extra effort, said one pressroom wag, was "inspired by the spirit of our Red Sox."

The ombudsman represents the readers. Her opinions and conclusions are her own. Phone 617-929-3020 or, to leave a message, 929-3022. Our e-mail address is ombud@globe.com.

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