I sometimes find myself in conversations with people about journalism and the media and find myself defending the profession and its practices.
What I often discover in these conversations is the journalism industry does not do a good enough job of explaining what makes up a newspaper and the media in general. And it’s not just in passing conversations or extensive debates either. It can be seen in some of the comments on The Volante’s website.
While I am excited to see people voicing their beliefs when they comment on articles and opinion pieces on the site, it does take away from the experience when some comments show there is confusion on how newspapers work.
In the day and age where 24-hour news channels, blogs and social media dominate people’s television, internet and reading experience, it is extremely important that everyone form a strong sense of news literacy.
The most common error seems to be a confusion between opinion and news.
A column is an opinion. It is the voice of the writers expressing their stance on a certain issue. While columns use facts, they offer the viewpoint of the writer based on those facts, such as my view, here, on the importance of news literacy.
Another part of the Opinion section which has caused confusion is the letters to the editor section. These are opinion pieces written by someone who is not on the newspaper staff. They could be writing in response to something previously published by the paper or about another issue on their mind. Again, it is important to note that a letter to the editor is not written by someone on the newspaper staff.
Reviews also express the opinion of an individual, letting the reader know what the writer’s view is on films or albums.
Reviewers offer recommendations and espouse a grade of some sort for what they are reviewing.
It is important to remember, though, that just because a column, letter to the editor or review runs in a newspaper or on its website, does not mean it is the opinion of the paper.
The only item purporting the opinion of the newspaper is the editorial, which represents the collective belief of the editorial board. This group consists of members of different sections on the staff, which is listed in our Opinion section every week.
In contrast to an opinion item, an article is a piece without the writer’s opinion — an article is only facts. The reporter is silent in a news article — the voices of those involved within the story are the only ones heard. As my high school journalism instructor would tell us, “Journalists know nothing.” Instead, journalists must seek out the facts from sources, creating a fair and balanced narrative without opinion.
Online comments are also a part of The Volante, yet like letters to the editor, are not written by members of The Volante staff. These are readers’ opinions of the readers articles or opinion pieces.
The Volante does have rules regarding the comments online. Comments must stay on topic, and while the paper supports the reader’s right to voice their opinion, it does not allow comments that attack the writer or fellow commenters directly.
For example, a commenter may say they disagree with a columnist’s opinion, but not say something negative about the columnist themselves.
I am not condemning those that do not understand the differences between the various parts of a newspaper. It is understandable if you haven’t been taught the differences that you would not understand them. Yet it is something everyone should learn at some point in their life.
When so much media is easily accessible by nearly anyone, it is vitally important to understand what it is that you are reading, watching or listening to. Consuming media is a large part of our daily lives, but not being able to differentiate between the various parts that make it up can leave the consumer lost.
Reach columnist Chris Jessen at