Since becoming editor of the New Castle News and The Herald three months ago, I’ve written most of the local editorials and columns appearing in the two papers.
I have the scars to prove it. But only one reoccurring criticism has gotten under my thick skin: When a reader calls an editorial or column “biased,” I want to stand up and scream, “OF COURSE IT’S BIASED — IT’S A (bleep) OPINION!
Opinions are inherently biased. So are all of us. Points-of-view come from people — and institutions — with vastly different interests and experiences.
Unlike newspaper editorials, columns, and other opinion content, however, news stories shouldn’t express the writer’s explicit views.
Reporters writing a news story, for example, on the city council’s call for the mayor’s resignation, will simply report the fact. News writers don’t interject that the mayor ought to resign, or that council members are creeps, even if they believe it.
By contrast, editorial writers and columnists may urge the mayor to resign, or call city council members creeps — if they have enough evidence and reasons for doing so.
To further break it down, editorials express the institutional view of the newspaper — the consensus of its editorial board — including the editor and publisher. Columns, whether written by staff writers or syndicated columnists, represent the personal opinion of the writer.
Contrary to what most people believe, editorial writers and columnists have the same obligation as reporters to be fair. Opinion writers should not advance ideas, or advocate causes, by making personal attacks, or by distorting or simplifying opposing views. Before taking a stand, purveyors of opinion should dig hard for information, just as diligently as do reporters.
In the New Castle News, The Herald, and other newspapers, opinion pieces are clearly marked, or should be.
On our websites, the words “editorial” or “opinion” is written in the headlines. In the newspapers, editorials and columns run on a designated Opinion Page that includes other opinion content, such as cartoons, letters to the editor, and syndicated columnists. Newspapers try to offer readers diverse viewpoints that challenge, or develop, their own ideas.
Ron Dzwonkowski, my former boss and legendary Detroit Free Press editorial-page editor, put it this way: “The newsroom tells readers what the newspaper knows. The editorial page tells them what it thinks.”
Readers shouldn’t confuse the two.
To make the point stick, I’m considering a brief editor’s note at the top of every local editorial in The Herald and New Castle News:
Warning. The piece you are about to read is infected with opinion. Should you experience an unquenchable fury, irresistible urge to kill the writer, or other symptoms caused by exposure to a new idea, stop reading and turn to the news pages, or play a relaxing video game of Fortnite.