Shortly, we will begin providing endorsements in the 2012 primary elections, issuing recommendations in most contested races in a tradition that dates back as long as our Opinion page.
In making these endorsements, we don't view them as infallible. We view them as our best judgments based on a conscientious assessment of the candidates and the issues.
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We also don't view them as sacrosanct. They are recommendations, one factor for you to consider when entering the voting booth. Ideally, they should be viewed as one element in a voter's research on the candidates, not a replacement for that research.
In saying all that, meanwhile, let's underscore this: We view endorsements as a sacred obligation, a necessary part of a newspaper's mission.
From time to time, there are debates about the merits of newspaper endorsements. Last week, the issue came up again when the Chicago Sun-Times announced it will no longer make them.
Let us be clear about this: As an institution in town, if we care about our community (and we do), we have a duty to do this work -- despite the labor it entails, the reflexive criticism it sometimes provokes, the hurt feelings it often spawns.
We have a duty to do this work and a duty to do it with courage, integrity and conviction.
The mission of any newspaper is to contribute to the good of the community, to play a part in making our corner of the world a little bit better place.
Most of that contribution is in the independent reporting that we do. We have an important role to play in informing the public and in exposing problems and wrongdoing. In our reporting, we try to look out for our community.
But our obligation doesn't stop there. We also have a weighty responsibility to help engage the public in an ongoing debate over the way we all are governed, the problems we face and how they should be solved. An engaged citizenry makes for a better community; that is the premise of democracy.
That is the whole point of the Opinion page -- not so much to promote our views and ideas as to promote a thoughtful but passionate discussion of views and ideas. In presenting that forum, we are trying to look out for our community.
The same is true with our endorsements. In presenting them, we try to look out for our community. We don't issue the endorsements lightly. We give each of them care and concern. We separate them from our reporting and our reporters.
And, of course, we hope that voters consider and follow them. But influence in who gets elected is not the central point.
Our intent in providing endorsements isn't to become kingmakers. It's to help be community builders.
And we achieve that mission every time we spark the suburban conversation.