It is almost every month someone approaches me to talk about a piece they read in the paper only to realize what they thought was a news article was actually an advertisement.
While it may seem like an innocent mistake, the inability of readers to distinguish between advertisements, news articles and opinion articles has some rather negative consequences. Mistaking opinion or ads for fact can affect whether or not our society is truly informed and adequately prepared to make decisions in their community.
As a general rule, news contains factual information reported by journalists. If they are responsible, well-trained journalists, they would have done research, verified facts, revealed the sources of their information and identified statements of opinion from those sources. With some legal or policy exceptions, advertisements can say pretty much whatever they want to and do not undergo independent fact-checking. Sometimes, in hopes of increasing credibility, ads are deliberately disguised to look like something produced by the news staff.
Opinion is meant to supplement the news portion and provide for an exchange of ideas. There are typically two types of opinion published in a newspaper. One is “editorial” which are statements made on behalf of the newspaper itself.
What you are reading now is editorial.
The other type of opinion is called “Op-ed” which stands for “opposite editorial.” It is named this because it would traditionally appear on the opposite side of the editorial page.
Op-ed includes guest columnists or submitted opinion pieces.
Newspapers don’t want their readers to be confused about what is news and what is opinion.
There are a couple tricks they use to help make opinion pieces distinguishable from news. Look for these hints that mark an opinion piece as you read this week’s issue:
• The article includes a column logo or a photo of the writer (just like this piece)
• The page or piece is labeled with words like: opinion, editorial, reporter’s notebook, review or analysis
• The text makes first-person statements like “I” and may follow it up with “believe” or “think”
• The tone is more personal, maybe with some sarcasm, exaggerations or personal anecdotes
• Many newspapers use what is called a “drop-cap” to signify an opinion piece. A “drop-cap” means the first capital letter of the story is extra large and “drops” into other lines of text below it.
• The piece has a tagline at the end that provides information about who the author is and what authority or expertise they may have to address certain topics.
With this in mind, I hope our readers are better able to differentiate the texts they may read in a newspaper and that they may let this knowledge influence the degree to which they trust or scrutinize the content they consume.
Kirsten Faurie is the editor of the Kanabec County Times, an affiliate of Press Publications.