Editorials, Opinion

Editorial Encore: News vs. opinion

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s editorial originally ran June 28, 2020.

What’s the difference between “news” and “opinion”?

News is the facts of the situation. It’s the report on a car wreck or a council meeting. Even soft news, like features on significant people or someone’s 100th birthday, is still news. The writing might be a little more flowery, but the article still gives the facts. News can contain quotes from people who are giving their opinion, but the meat of the story is still based in concrete events.

Opinion is an expression of a particular point of view. After we’ve read or seen the news, we form a perspective regarding it. We may agree or disagree. We may support something or not. We may understand multiple positions or only one or sometimes none. Opinion isn’t what happened; opinion is how we feel about what happened.

A report from Harvard’s Nieman Lab explored the evolution of opinion in news coverage. In the days of Ben Franklin (the Pennsylvania Gazette) and Alexander Hamilton (The Gazette of the United States), newspapers were a vehicle for their owners’ ideas. There was virtually no separation between news and opinion.

But the 19th century brought change to the news industry. As papers sought to increase their readership, an emphasis emerged on impartial news. Even as the “news” in newspaper took on a new meaning, papers were still viewed as an opportunity for expression beyond just the facts. Hence, we have editorial pages. At The Dominion Post, we have the Opinion page, which you are reading now.

Editorial pages became the place for the newspaper to state its philosophy on certain issues, endorse or not endorse political candidates and otherwise share perspectives from community members and respected columnists across the country. Our editorials are the position of the paper, decided upon by the consensus of the Editorial Board. Our Opinion page is where we get to speak to you and where you get to speak to us and the community.

There’s a reason the Opinion page is separate from the news. This is not the place for original fact reporting. This is the place to analyze, discuss and share perspectives about the news. We treat our editorials like argumentative essays. We do our research, we gather our facts and then we use that information to support a position. Sometimes in the course of our research, we discover information that changes our opinion. Sometimes we find out something we thought we knew is incorrect, and we reevaluate our stance. We do bias checks, use credited sources, fact-check and verify information by using two or more sources.

On the Opinion page, we do our best to inform and explain, but this page is not the news. For example, we may try to persuade you to adopt a cat because June is Adopt a Cat Month. To do this, we research the benefits of cat ownership and present the information within the framework: “This is why you should adopt a cat.”

Some editorials are less informative and more, well, opinionated. These editorials are still well-researched, but their intent isn’t to explain. Rather, these are calls to action. Or they may be reflections on events happening in our town, state or country.

Come to this page when you’re curious about other perspectives.