Separating news and facts from opinions
A message came back to me from an advertiser via one of our ad reps. He said we needed to quit running so many “liberal” articles.
This newspaper has been my life and a 21-year labor of love, so I always listen intently to criticisms and critiques. Especially in cases like this, where I’ve known the business owner for years and know he’s no dummy. I feel certain the criticism is of our opinion pages, where the overwhelming number of letters this election season has been in favor of Democratic candidates for Congress and the state legislature or from those against President Trump.
The news business has never been simple. You’re open to attacks for what you cover and for what you choose not to cover, for how you report on a particular issue and for how you treat certain individuals.
But here’s the truth, which may be news to some people: we don’t edit or refuse to publish submitted letters to favor any political ideology. The prevalence of letters supporting certain candidates or causes are indicative of the letters we get via email, snail mail, and those which walk in the front door and are hand-delivered. If anyone sends a letter in and it meets our criteria — isn’t crude or vulgar, doesn’t attack a private individual or business, and if it’s not libelous — we print them. All of them.
Often letters come across my desk that are anonymous. Sorry, those won’t get printed. If you won’t stand behind your opinions, our newspaper won’t stand behind it.
Believe it or not, there’s actually a code of ethics developed by the Society of Professional Journalists (www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp) that I find myself re-reading sometimes when someone accuses us of being unfair or biased. It’s pretty standard fare, but just like some religious people like to read the Bible and some lawyers and lawmakers read the Constitution, this code of ethics can be reassuring.
That code notes the difference between news and opinion, and — as we do here and as almost all newspapers do — recommends clearly delineating the two. It’s second nature for print journalists to make that distinction, where you have columnists who print opinions and journalists who report objectively.
But a lot of readers don’t understand that line, which in our industry is more like a sacred wall. It’s a hard and fast fact in almost all newsrooms at all legitimate newspapers in this country. We don’t print opinions in the news pages, only on the editorial pages.
Now, that doesn’t mean that the sources we use in our news stories aren’t voicing their opinions. Of course they are. And our reporters take the utmost care to quote them accurately and to make sure those words aren’t taken out of context. That’s what trained journalists do, as opposed to so many television talking heads and many internet blog sites that don’t delineate clearly between fact and opinion.
Of course, there is some subjectivity in what we choose to cover. We have to make choices, as all news sources do, and readers are invited to look for biases in those decisions. I always enjoy looking at the same stories as they are covered by different news sources, in particular the Wall Street Journal versus the New York Times. Those are arguably the two best newspapers in the country, and one leans conservative while the other leans liberal. It’s an exercise I would recommend to anyone who is looking to really see both sides of a hot political issue.
In the end, our mission on our news pages is to be fair and accurate, and on our opinion pages to be a space where different viewpoints are welcome and encouraged. We take pride in providing a public square where opinions are debated and ideas are tested.
So send us your opinions. We sincerely want to hear them and want to print them.