Why this New Hampshire newspaper isn’t making a primary endorsement

"This was not an easy decision."

Sen. Hillary Clinton, a candidate for President running in the NH Presidential Primary, meets with editors and staff of the Concord (NH) Monitor on 12/21/07
Dan Habib/Concord Monitor
Bill Clinton, campaigning for his wife in 2007, visits the offices of the Concord Monitor, in Concord, New Hampshire. –Dan Habib / Concord Monitor, File

With less than 24 hours until voting begins, editorial boards of all the major New Hampshire newspapers are making their presidential primary picks.

Well, nearly all of them.

The Union Leader, Keene Sentinel, and Seacoast Media Group all endorsed Sen. Amy Klobuchar; the Conway Daily Sun backed Sen. Bernie Sanders. And the Concord Monitor is endorsing no one.

In an era of declining subscribers and dwindling revenue, the daily newspaper based in New Hampshire’s capital city announced that it decided to devote its limited resources elsewhere.

“This was not an easy decision, but it was one guided by what we see as our central mission in our communities,” Steve Leone, the editor of the Monitor, wrote in a note to the paper’s readers last week. “In a world where opinions increasingly come from all directions, our value, we believe, is in providing our readers with local journalism rooted in solid reporting. Our decision is indicative of the changes happening across our industry. With fewer resources, we’ve had to make some hard choices, both in coverage and philosophy.”

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Leone explained that, with a “far smaller staff than in primaries past,” the paper decided last summer that the time it would take for the editorial board to meet with all the candidates (which would have numbered more than two dozen at the time) would be better spent focused on local journalism, “from area school districts to developments in the State House.”

“We believe that’s where our readers need us to be,” he wrote.

The decision didn’t mean that the Monitor was abandoning its primary coverage; the paper hired veteran reporter Paul Steinhauser to write a weekly freelance column and relied more on the Associated Press wire service for breaking news. Leone said they also ramped up coverage of the Democratic primary race in the week ahead of the election Tuesday.

The Monitor isn’t the only big newspaper in the region not endorsing a candidate before the crucial New Hampshire primary. The editorial board of The Boston Globe (which, along with Boston.com, falls under Boston Globe Media Partners) announced last week it was holding their endorsement until sometime after the election Tuesday, as it called for “the end of an antiquated system that gives outsized influence in choosing presidents” to two states, Iowa and New Hampshire, that do not demographically represent the rest of the country.

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Still, the Monitor‘s decision, which didn’t garner significant national attention until this week, was received as a somber illustration of the struggles facing small newspapers across the country and a break in a quaint tradition, in which big-name candidates worked overtime to woo the state’s so-called “pipsqueak press.”

“This fits with something I was hearing months back about candidates’ stops in New Hampshire,” Vanity Fair editor and media reporter Michael Calderone tweeted Monday, adding that national news organization and TV networks were “well represented at events, but fewer local outlets present.”

Some said they understood the decision, given the newspaper industry’s scarce resources and the already minimal influence of editorial board endorsements in anything other than lower-office, low-information elections. At the same time, Meg Heckman, a Northeastern University professor and former Monitor reporter, said the paper should have announced it “much earlier in the primary cycle” and even explored potential alternatives.

“It’s not always a black-and-white choice between continuing or abandoning long-held traditions,” Heckman said in a series of tweets Sunday. “Rather, it’s about news organizations and the communities they serve finding a new path (a sort of third way) forward in service of civic life.”

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