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Research we do on the web and through library databases often leads us to content from newspapers, magazines, and news agencies (such as Reuters and the Associated Press). What all news content has in common is that it connects in some way to something that is new or in the news.

News content can be roughly divided into the categories of news and opinion. News articles attempt to provide information on a current event, while opinion pieces attempt to persuade readers to adopt a particular position on that event.

The distinction between news and opinion is not black and white. An example of one grey area is “advocacy reporting”—when news is reported from an explicit perspective. For example, news articles published in the Humane Society magazine––All Animals––generally serve the organization’s larger agenda of promoting humane treatment of animals (Example: “Big Changes at SeaWorldAll AnimalsMay/June 2016).

Another subcategory of news that can at times seem to enter into this grey area is “news analysis”—news writing that pushes beyond surface answers to the 5 W’s and H (Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How?) to explore causes and consequences of news events (Example: “Grammy Awards 2018: How the Recording Academy has Evolved Toward Relevance” LA Times Nov. 28, 2017).

More generally, we should recognize that the way in which news is presented—including what information is selected for inclusion, and what words and images are used to communicate that information—can encourage particular understandings or perspectives. We should always be alert to such factors in news reporting, and to significant departures from accepted standards of journalistic fairness and accuracy.

But to reject the journalistic distinction between news and opinion is to turn all sources into an undifferentiated mass of “information.” An analogy: These days many movies contain commercial messages (for example, product placement) and many commercials have taken on movie-like qualities (consider this AT&T ad—titled “Whole New World,” for example). Yet we still value the ability to distinguish between these two types of content and to refer to them by different names. (Without different names for these two types of content, how would we express frustration with a feature-length Burger King ad? What words would we use?)

Skillful researchers are able to identify sources by type, even in circumstances when they do not believe a source has achieved the highest ideals of its type. Below (Table 1) are some defining features of “news” and “opinion.”

News  Opinion 
 The writer reports the news. People’s opinions may appear as part of that reporting (“According to Mr. Smith…”), but the writer does not explicitly present his/her own views. The writer shares his or her own views and explicitly seeks to persuade readers to adopt those views as their own. 

Table 1

Below (Table 2) are some sub-categories of news and opinion:

News   
News Article An article written to inform readers about recent events. The author reports essential information (who/what/where/when/why/how). 
News Analysis  An article written to inform readers about recent events. The author reports and attempts to deepen understanding of recent events—for example, by providing background information and other kinds of additional context. 
Feature Article 

Compared with news articles, feature articles are often more creative or exploratory and less focused on efficient delivery of essential information.

For example, while a news article may detail the most recent revelations about a politician’s extramarital affair, a feature article may offer in-depth reporting on a single aspect of the revelations, or the revelations may function as a “news peg” for the feature article’s more general exploration of infidelity.

Other types of news content that are generally categorized as “feature” writing include how-to-do-it articles (for example, how to shop for a new phone) and profiles (for example, an article about a movie actor starring in a recently-released film).

   
Opinion   
Editorial An unsigned opinion piece that represents the views of the news organization’s editorial staff. 
Opinion piece An opinion article by a staff columnist or guest columnist. (If a guest columnist, the writer's credentials will almost always be identified.)
Review An evaluation of a book, movie, album, live performance, etc.

Table 2

Distinguishing between News and Opinion: An Example

Compare the two texts that follow. In the first, “Get Children Off Web and in Libraries,” the reporter quotes the opinions of others but does not offer her own opinions. In the second, “Why Libraries are Key,” the author explicitly takes a stand and seeks to persuade readers to adopt a particular position on an issue.

News

Get children off web and in libraries, says Laureate

Children are failing to learn properly because they are churning out facts copied from the internet instead of going to the library, according to the new Children's Laureate1.

Julia Donaldson, the best-selling author of The Gruffalo, set out her stall on the day of her appointment by speaking out against the Government's planned library closures, arguing that they are vital for children's education1.

Opinions are attributed to another person (Donaldson). They are not presented as the reporter's own view.1

Source:
Singh, Anita. "Get Children Off Web and in Libraries, says Laureate." The Daily Telegraph, 8 June 2011, 8.

Opinion

Why libraries are key to our kids' futures

Children’s use of libraries has increased every year for the past six years.

As the Children's Laureate I want to make sure that2 continues, and to do all I can to keep libraries open so that children can use them.

Without this resource I'm convinced that we will2 have far fewer avid child readers and consequently lose a large percentage of our future adult readers.

Notice that the author presents her own views, credentials, and objectives2.

Source:
Donaldson, Julia. "Why Libraries are Key to Our Kids Futures." The Sun, 14 October 2011, 40.

News or Opinion? Test your understanding.

Identify each excerpt that follows as an example of news or opinion. (Discussion of each example appears at the end of this section.)

  1. Jeremy Hunt: No Public Interest in Nude Prince Harry Photographs

    Speaking to BBC News this morning, Mr. Hunt said: "Personally I cannot see what the public interest was in publishing those.”

    "But we have a free press,” he added, “and I don't think it is right for politicians to tell newspaper editors what they can and cannot publish. That must be a matter for the newspaper editors.”

    He suggested that the public should give the Prince "a break", days after the daily tabloid published photographs obtained by gossip website TMZ.

    Source:
    “Jeremy Hunt: No Public Interest in Nude Prince Harry Photographs.” The Telegraph, 26 August 2012, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/prince-harry/9500433/Jeremy-Hunt-No-public-interest-in-nude-Prince-Harry-photographs.html

  2. Social Media Content Could Make, Break Professional Life

    Do you remember your last tweet? What about last month’s Facebook or Instagram posts? It is all out there somewhere, and employers very well may see something that could hurt their opinion of you.

    Tyler Willingham, a senior in marketing and a peer career adviser, was curious to know exactly what an employer's goal is when perusing a prospective employee's social media. After speaking with a mentor from a previous internship Willingham held, he found his answer.

    “It’s not really an issue of what they look for,” Willingham said “but what they try not to find.”

    Career Services interim director Stephanie Kit said some of the things employers hope not to find are pictures and posts involving alcohol or drug usage, negative comments about a current or previous employer and any discriminatory content.

    Source:
    Lipps, Michael. “Social Media Content Could Make, Break Professional Life.” University of Tennessee Daily Beacon, 15 April 2015, www.utdailybeacon.com/news/2015/apr/15/social-media-content-could-make-break-professional/.

  3. ‘Kid Nation’ Lesson: Be Careful What You Pitch

    On Friday, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the union that represents performers but not contestants on reality shows, said it was investigating whether the children on “Kid Nation” should have been covered by the union’s work rules.

    With “Kid Nation,” CBS confronted several new situations created by the fact that it was working with children rather than adults.

    If “Kid Nation” had been set in California, New York or several other states, it would have been subject to laws that limit the amount of time a child could spend on the set of the program each day. It chose instead to shoot the program in New Mexico, where until this summer there was no law addressing children’s work on television or film productions.

    That is not to say that New Mexico had not contemplated such limits. Before CBS took the 40 children to the state, its Legislature had already passed a bill that would have outlawed much of what CBS had planned.

    On April 3, two days after CBS started shooting the 13-episode reality series, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico signed the bill into law. It limits children ages 8 to 15 to eight to nine hours’ work a day on television and film productions.

    On the set of “Kid Nation,” the children regularly worked more than 12 hours a day, and their contract required that they be available to the show’s producers to be videotaped 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

    But because the new law was not scheduled to go into effect until June 15, roughly one month after “Kid Nation” finished production, lawyers for CBS have contended that everything they did was in compliance with the law “in effect at the time of production.”

    But it is not clear whether CBS was in compliance. New Mexico child-labor statutes limit children under the age of 14 to 44 hours of work in one week and eight hours in any day, unless a special permit has been granted. […]

    Source:
    Wyatt, Edward. “‘Kid Nation’ Lesson: Be Careful What You Pitch.” New York Times, 25 August 2007, B7.

  4. Sometimes, the Teachers Bully the Students

    The government of Alberta has re-introduced its Education Act, which addresses the issue of student bullying in schools. The bill affirms that students are entitled to learning environments that are welcoming, caring, respectful and safe.

    The government is to be commended both for its process in engaging the community, and for the resulting new provisions.

    For example, the bill's definition of bullying acknowledges that bullying is intentional and repetitive, and that it can cause harm, fear and distress to victims in the school community. Moreover, the bill wisely addresses not just the situation where a student bullies fellow students, but where a student bullies other individuals in the school community. Such recognition that students can bully adults is important because research suggests that students often bully their teachers.

    Yet, the bill fails to acknowledge that the imbalance of power between teachers and students creates an opportunity for bullying of students by adults. […] The bill ought to recognize and address the possibility of bullying behavior by adults who work in schools.

    Source:
    Buchfink, Jaclyn, and Juliet Guichon. “Sometimes, the Teachers Bully the Students.” Calgary Herald, 21 February 2012, A13.

Discussion

  1. Jeremy Hunt: No Public Interest in Nude Prince Harry Photographs

    Speaking to BBC News this morning, Mr. Hunt said: "Personally I cannot see what the public interest was in publishing those.”

    "But we have a free press,” he added, “and I don't think it is right for politicians to tell newspaper editors what they can and cannot publish. That must be a matter for the newspaper editors.”

    He suggested that the public should give the Prince "a break", days after the daily tabloid published photographs obtained by gossip website TMZ.

    1. News
    -This piece deals almost exclusively with an opinion, but the opinion is not that of the author.
    -Rather, the author is reporting on the opinion of a public figure (British Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt).

  2. Social Media Content Could Make, Break Professional Life

    Do you remember your last tweet? What about last month’s Facebook or Instagram posts? It is all out there somewhere, and employers very well may see something that could hurt their opinion of you.

    Tyler Willingham, a senior in marketing and a peer career adviser, was curious to know exactly what an employer's goal is when perusing a prospective employee's social media. After speaking with a mentor from a previous internship Willingham held, he found his answer.

    “It’s not really an issue of what they look for,” Willingham said “but what they try not to find.”

    Career Services interim director Stephanie Kit said some of the things employers hope not to find are pictures and posts involving alcohol or drug usage, negative comments about a current or previous employer and any discriminatory content.

    2. News
    -This is an example of a "feature"-style news piece. The presentation is more creative than that of a news article, and the headline expresses a claim. But the author is still primarily reporting on the views of others.

  3. ‘Kid Nation’ Lesson: Be Careful What You Pitch

    On Friday, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the union that represents performers but not contestants on reality shows, said it was investigating whether the children on “Kid Nation” should have been covered by the union’s work rules.

    With “Kid Nation,” CBS confronted several new situations created by the fact that it was working with children rather than adults.

    If “Kid Nation” had been set in California, New York or several other states, it would have been subject to laws that limit the amount of time a child could spend on the set of the program each day. It chose instead to shoot the program in New Mexico, where until this summer there was no law addressing children’s work on television or film productions.

    That is not to say that New Mexico had not contemplated such limits. Before CBS took the 40 children to the state, its Legislature had already passed a bill that would have outlawed much of what CBS had planned.

    On April 3, two days after CBS started shooting the 13-episode reality series, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico signed the bill into law. It limits children ages 8 to 15 to eight to nine hours’ work a day on television and film productions.

    On the set of “Kid Nation,” the children regularly worked more than 12 hours a day, and their contract required that they be available to the show’s producers to be videotaped 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

    But because the new law was not scheduled to go into effect until June 15, roughly one month after “Kid Nation” finished production, lawyers for CBS have contended that everything they did was in compliance with the law “in effect at the time of production.”

    But it is not clear whether CBS was in compliance. New Mexico child-labor statutes limit children under the age of 14 to 44 hours of work in one week and eight hours in any day, unless a special permit has been granted.

    3. News
    -This is an example of a "News Analysis" article. It does not merely report Who, What, Where, When, Why and How (though we do see these elements in the top paragraph) but rather attempts to provide readers with a better understanding of the broader context and complexities of the news event.

  4. Sometimes, the Teachers Bully the Students

    The government of Alberta has re-introduced its Education Act, which addresses the issue of student bullying in schools. The bill affirms that students are entitled to learning environments that are welcoming, caring, respectful and safe.

    The government is to be commended both for its process in engaging the community, and for the resulting new provisions.

    For example, the bill's definition of bullying acknowledges that bullying is intentional and repetitive, and that it can cause harm, fear and distress to victims in the school community. Moreover, the bill wisely addresses not just the situation where a student bullies fellow students, but where a student bullies other individuals in the school community. Such recognition that students can bully adults is important because research suggests that students often bully their teachers.

    Yet, the bill fails to acknowledge that the imbalance of power between teachers and students creates an opportunity for bullying of students by adults […] The bill ought to recognize and address the possibility of bullying behavior by adults who work in schools.

    4. Opinion
    -While the authors do report on the positions and research findings of others, they are essentially putting forward their own position.
    -Notice that the opinions expressed in this piece are not attributed to others, as in the previous examples. The opinions belong to the authors.

Further Study

Journalistic norms and practices are always evolving. The rise of 24-hour cable news networks and the internet has led many traditional news outlets to differentiate themselves by offering more analysis, contextualization, and interpretation in their reporting. Another factor in this evolution has been a growing disenchantment with older ideals of detached reporting—especially the most rigid interpretation of these ideals, in which objectivity is understood to dictate a narrow focus on the surface details of news phenomena, and in which even identification of verifiable falsehoods in the statements of public officials might be considered a breach of journalistic objectivity.

For further study, see:

Esser, Frank, and Andrea Umbricht. “The Evolution of Objective and Interpretative Journalism in the Western Press.” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, vol. 91, no. 2, 2014, pp. 229-249.

Maras, Steven. Objectivity in Journalism. Polity Press, 2013.

Seyb, Ronald P. “What Walter Saw: Walter Lippmann, the New York World, and Scientific Advocacy as an Alternative to the News-Opinion Dichotomy.” Journalism History, vol. 41, no. 2, 2015, pp. 58-72.