Two sleeps to go until most of us make a decision on who to vote for, but only one sleep until the nation’s editors have to decide who to favour in their election-day editorials.

Rumblings reaching the Crikey open-plan (no longer a bunker) suggest that the process is causing angst and argument on chipboard row at The Age , where a much longer editorial than normal is being penned by the editor, Andrew Jaspan, personally. Senior editorial staff have yet to see a draft.

Pages are being redesigned in preparation for a missive to the readers that may be several thousand words in length. But, the rumours say, despite all the words the editorial may well end up sitting on the fence – arguing that there is not enough difference between the parties to be able to advise readers one way or the other.

For the kind of argument that might be run, see this effort in last week’s Sunday Age , which included the key paragraph:

On the contenders’ “exposed form”, The Sunday Age does not see enough differences between the Coalition and Labor to urge readers to vote for one over the other. But we offer some observations.

The editorial then wended its way through the government’s record on human rights and the economy before concluding that it was all very serious indeed, and the nation faced enormous problems – but the paper had no opinion.

The claims that Jaspan will sit on the fence have been fuelled by his performance on Jon Faine’s ABC Melbourne radio program yesterday, when he went on the record prevaricating (if it is possible to be on the record doing such a thing) on whether or not to make a call. By contrast, Bruce Guthrie, editor of the Herald-Sun , said his paper would most certainly take a position.

Does it matter? It has probably been many decades since newspaper editorials shifted large numbers of votes. Nevertheless they are important – an act of honesty in the paper’s relationship with its readers, and also a useful service. Good editorials often sum up the issues better than can be done in conventional news and analysis. But the essence is that they represent the collegiate and considered judgement of those who closely observe and think about the affairs of the nation. In other words, they are emblematic of what newspapers are for, and part of a masthead’s credibility.

Editorials go the heart of the notion that a masthead has a personality, or as the marketers prefer to say, a “brand”. Editors shouldn’t wimp it.

We know Jaspan doesn’t read Crikey, because he so often tells everyone, in detail, what is wrong with it.

So I can safely, but impotently, urge him and his fellow editors of Australian newspapers to consult their colleagues, think, and make a call.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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