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Historic names fall prey to current partisanship

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The names of newspapers like Massachusetts’ Springfield Republican and New Hampshire’s Coos County Democrat hark back to an earlier era of journalism, when papers aligned themselves with brawling 19th-century partisan factions. Those names have survived as cherished links to the past, even as their original meaning faded, and have become traditions in their own right. Until now, apparently.

A 196-year-old newspaper in Virginia, the Fauquier Times-Democrat, recently announced that it is dropping the word “Democrat” from its title. Never mind that the paper’s last presidential endorsement was for 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain; in today’s divided environment, simply seeing the word apparently alienated some readers.

The newspaper shouldn’t be expected to cling to a name its circulation department says may be costing readers. But hopefully its action isn’t a harbinger of things to come. For decades, readers of all political stripes have been mature enough to take newspapers with historical partisan names in stride. If that’s no longer possible, it would be a sad commentary on our hyper-polarized era.

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