Editorial: Lines separating fact, opinion too-often blurred
With the rise of the internet, social media and streaming news services — and the subsequent 24-7 newscycle — the lines between objective news reporting and subjective commentary are becoming ever the more blurred.
Admittedly, the media, itself, is at least partially to blame for this disturbing trend. Every day, Americans are subjected to glorified opinion pieces masquerading as objective reporting, which serves only to underscore the growing public perception that the mainstream media is made mostly of “fake news.”
At best, this is unfortunate; at worst, it is untenable.
One of the most important roles served by a free press is to act as a watchdog over the potential abuses that come with the concentration of power within a centralized government. This crucial task becomes all but impossible in the absence of credibility, and the fading lines that separate fact from opinion are affronts to that credibility.
The Craig Press — like other American news organizations — is not exempt from the repercussions of this trend. We are often admonished for “failing to remain objective” in an opinion piece, or for promoting one ideology or another through our choice of political cartoons.
These admonishments arise from the misconception — a misconception promulgated by the blurring of these lines — that all newspaper content is created equal and intended for the same purpose.
That said, we thought it might be useful to compare and contrast the types of content readers routinely see in their local newspapers.
Hard news article
Hard news articles comprise objective reports of verifiable facts and generally deal with serious topics and current events. There is no place in a hard news article for a reporter’s opinion, or, indeed, a reporter’s conjecture about what certain facts may mean. When we think of hard news articles, we are reminded of the words of Detective Sergeant Joe Friday from television’s “Dragnet”: “Just the facts, ma’am.” The goal of such articles is to present the reader with “just the facts,” then trust the reader to analyze those facts and decide for his or herself what they imply.
Like hard news articles, feature articles also report objective facts, however the subject matter of such articles is usually lighter, for want of a better word. Feature articles tell the stories of special events, places or people in great detail. There are several sub-types of feature articles, however, they always deal with topics of human interest, and for that reason, they tend to be a bit more anecdotal and informal in style.
Unlike news articles, columns express the personal opinions of individual writers. In this newspaper, columns typically appear on the Opinion pages, but you may see them in other sections of the paper, as well. Columns usually include either a small photo of the column’s author or the logo of the contributor’s organization. Columns must also adhere to facts, but they also allow room for the writer’s opinions about those facts. Columns reflect the opinions of their authors, not necessarily the opinion of the Craig Press.
Editorials, such as the one you’re currently reading, are also considered opinion pieces, but, whereas columns reflect the opinions of their authors, editorials reflect the opinions of the newspaper. Editorial positions are developed by a board comprised of three newspaper staff members and two community representatives, all of whom agree on both the topic and the position.
Letter to the editor
Letters to the editor are intended to give readers a forum in which to present their personal opinions. At the Craig Press, we do not censor letters based upon the opinions they present, though we do edit them for spelling, grammar and length. Like columns and editorials, letters to the editor reflect the personal opinions of their authors, but those opinions must still be based upon factual information. This newspaper will only censor a letter to the editor in cases of potential libel — defined as published statements that are both false and damaging to the reputation or character of a person, group or organization.
Due to the blurring of lines we discussed earlier, these definitions probably won’t be of much help when you’re watching cable news. But they should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect when you’re reading this newspaper.