Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

News Stories, Columns, Editorials Are Different in Important Ways

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

News Stories, Columns, Editorials Are Different in Important Ways

Article excerpt

Journalists don't make it easy for the readers to sort out straight news and opinion, yet the distinctions are critical to the credibility of newspapers.

For instance, readers often complain that an opinion column is not objective.

Or that a news story must represent the stance of the newspaper.

Or that an editorial must be fair.

None of those are true.

Here are summaries:

News stories: The goal is to be as fair and balanced as possible. A news story should not be a vehicle for the reporter's opinion. Thus, an Associated Press story on Jan. 7 ("GOP debate sidesteps the realities") should have been labeled as analysis because it included the reporter's commentary. Also, because a story is reported does not mean that the reporter or the newspaper agrees with it. It means only that it is news.

Opinion columns: Identified usually by the photo of the writer, a column represents the views of the writer alone and not necessarily the views of the newspaper or the staff. For instance, last Tuesday, Ronald Littlepage questioned whether the government ought to be executing people. That column was clearly labeled opinion. I believe that every opinion column ought to be labeled, especially when a column is located in a news section.

Editorials: These are unsigned because they do not represent an individual's opinion, but the opinion of the newspaper as an institution. For instance, last Monday an editorial challenged the effects of slavery as justification for affirmative action programs. That doesn't mean that everyone at the newspaper agrees with every editorial. Also, the publisher is the final arbiter of editorial opinions. As opinions, editorials are not expected to be fair. Opportunities to respond to them are afforded through Letters from Readers or guest opinion columns.

There are more nuances to those definitions, of course, but the basics are essential. Credibility is frittered away when newspapers do not label their columns or explain the roles of the various news items. …

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