Clark Hoyt, the public editor for the NY Times, posted an insider’s view of how journalists at the Times separate opinion from straight reporting. I commend the article to all who write for publication on OpEdNews. Hoyt reports actual controversies at the Times where the lines between news, opinion, and advocacy were crossed. Quoting from Hoyt’s article:
“Subtlety and restraint are important in news columns,” [NY Times Executive Editor Bill Keller] told me. Business columnists must build a case through reporting that can lead a reader to a conclusion, Keller said. Op-Ed columnists have “greater license to write from an ideological viewpoint and be prescriptive.”
What’s at stake here is credibility. On the internet, the sort of debate that Hoyt reports doesn’t happen. There isn’t an Editorial Page to segregate opinion. No editor is forbidding out and out advocacy or advice.
The problem arises when it is not clear to what category a posting belongs from the text. Often news is tainted with opinion. Though this is true of all media, it is blatant on the internet. All but the most naïve take internet postings with a healthy dose of skepticism. Too often we find distortions when we check facts. FactCheck.org and Snopes.com owe their existence to this reality.
For our individual work as contributors to be taken seriously, I suggest that we need to be clear what journalistic hat we are wearing (reporter, columnist, advocate) and not leave it to the reader to guess. For our collective work on any given web-site to be credible, it’s crucial that we make the distinctions.