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This weekend, a slew of newspapers in key swing states will likely release their endorsements for president and other elected positions. This kind of regional validation is highly prized by candidates. But as NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reports from the battleground of Ohio, it's not entirely clear why.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: I ran across Matthew Burton, a trained architect, who, like many Ohioans, lost his job two years ago. He found another but decided to become a stay-at-home dad. Which one is yours?
MATTHEW BURTON: The one that's always (unintelligible) in the fountain.
FOLKENFLIK: The Columbus Dispatch gave a strong editorial backing to former Governor Mitt Romney last week. Burton lives just outside Columbus and reads the paper, but he could have guessed its chosen candidate blindfolded.
BURTON: The Dispatch is a traditionally very conservative newspaper. There is a saying that say, but they've always endorsed every Republican since Woodrow Wilson. So I'd be more surprised if they endorsed a Democrat.
FOLKENFLIK: The Ohioans I talked to sure were aware The Dispatch backed Romney, and that the Cleveland Plain Dealer went for President Obama but in both cases to little effect. Take these three, a Romney supporter, an undecided voter and an Obama fan.
MARK PISCIONERI: Honestly, it doesn't influence me at all. There's definitely an underlying mistrust in the media, but doing my own research and doing my homework...
CHRIS MALLOY: The endorsement really has no impact on my thought or who I'll vote for. I just think it's just one person's opinion. My opinion is just as valid as the editor of the newspaper, and it's my vote. So really, I have to decide for myself.
HIMIE-BUDU SHANNON: I think the people should be the one to make the decision as opposed to these newspapers endorsing each other.
FOLKENFLIK: Do you remember a time when you felt differently about newspapers?
HIMIE-BUDU SHANNON: As a child, not since I've became mature.
FOLKENFLIK: There you heard it from restaurant manager Mark Piscioneri, software consultant Chris Malloy and Episcopalian deacon Himie-Budu Shannon, all from Cleveland. It's not that these Ohioans and a dozen more like them that I talked to aren't plugged in. They seemed to follow the news closely, mostly online and on TV. But nowadays, newspapers are often as not fading print monopolies with sharply reduced paid circulations.
David Holthaus is the new editorial page editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer, which hasn't yet made its pick public. He says it's a civic duty to give readers the benefits of the paper's research.
DAVID HOLTHAUS: What we would like to see is our voice added to the voices across the country, and in that way present what's important for our community and for our readers and have a way to speak directly to the campaigns.
FOLKENFLIK: Ohio State political science scholar Paul Beck has tracked elections for 40 years. He says such editorials only really matter for local races, like judges.
PAUL BECK: People who pay any attention to presidential politics have all this information about it. They've seen the candidates in the debates. They have seen - what - countless ads on television, so many that they probably are tuning them out as well. The newspaper endorsements I suspect are minor elements, if at all.
FOLKENFLIK: Some polling from Pew Research Center and others offer support for that conclusion. One veteran of four Republican presidential campaigns, Dan Schnur, says that diminished influence reflects a shift in political strategy. Schnur is now director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, but he was communications director for John McCain's presidential bid in 2000.
DAN SCHNUR: The primary goal of a presidential campaign in the 21st century is no longer to persuade a dwindling number of undecided voters but rather to find a way to inspire and to excite and motivate your strongest supporters. A newspaper endorsement is much more effective at persuading someone who hasn't made up their mind.
FOLKENFLIK: And yet for all that, in this case, Schnur disagrees with the new conventional wisdom.
SCHNUR: If you are the newspaper in the most important swing media market and the most important swing state in a very close presidential election, you still matter a lot. And The Columbus Dispatch endorsement really does matter.
FOLKENFLIK: That's because campaigns used the endorsements in advertisements, social media updates, radio commercials and mailers and the like to convey momentum toward the White House and rally the faithful. So buck up, Buckeye editorialists, you may help pick a president, but don't count on it. David Folkenflik, NPR News, Columbus, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.