In defense of the opinion page

By Jack Hellie

The liberal media. The media elite. The biased media. Even on Christmas you can’t open Twitter and not see any of those epithets as you scroll down your feed. But where does a bias in newspapers, even if imaginary, come from? The opinion page.

The opinion page of a newspaper resides somewhere in the mess that a folded and rolled up broadsheet can be. It’s not the front page, it’s not the sports section, it isn’t world news, and it sure isn’t (but is sometimes can be confused with) politics.

Open your local newspaper to the opinion page and you can find a political cartoon, a syndicated columnist, a letter to the editor about an upcoming city council vote or in an election year, an endorsement for a candidate.

When newspapers endorse candidates, particularly the candidate a reader might not support, in can lead readers to dismiss that paper as “biased” and not read anymore of its news coverage. This is problematic in that the editorial page of a newspaper and a news department of a newspaper are (hopefully!) entirely separate, and the average citizen might not make that distinction, or even be aware of it. There is discussion about whether or not newspapers should even endorse candidates for high office.

But I am not here to defend editorial boards, I am here to defend the opinion page as a whole.

The front page of a newspaper is sexy, or at least it should be. The various pages of news will inform you. They will tell you what happened yesterday, whether it is the scores of high school sports games or something President-Elect Donald Trump said at a news conference. You will (hopefully!) get answers to the big five questions: who, what, when, where, and why. I don’t need to explain the benefits of being an informed citizen, and I will not argue against the news in a newspaper.

The news provides the news, but the opinion page provides perspective. It’s commentary and columns give context and ask questions, provide historical context and voice. Biases that exist on opinion pages should be cheered, not booed. If Paul Krugman’s column in the New York Times makes you want to claw your eyes out, great! If a Karl Rove piece in the Wall Street Journal makes you cringe, that’s just as great! But both are bright, well regarded spokespersons for ideas and you should want to see what they have to say, if only to reinforce your own beliefs. You will be all the better for it, having seen something from a different perspective.

 

Comparing the front pages of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, the content of the news should not vary too greatly. But open to the respective opinion pages, and one can tell at a glance The New York Time’s lean to the left and the Wall Street Journal’s voice from the right.

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The opinion page of the Wall Street Journal form January 12, 2017

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The opinion page of the New York Times from January 16, 2017

 

These are not bad discrepancies. The opinion pages of newspapers should not be mocked, it should be read! Embrace the columns and commentary on that page and you will understand the news on the previous pages even better.

 

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One thought on “In defense of the opinion page

  1. Pingback: Journalism site visits finally arrive; joyful cheering erupts in the streets | Drake in D.C.

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