On Saturday, April 18th , the International journalism festival hosted a panel discussion on ‘Opinion vs the news’. It opened with a brief introduction by Stephan Harris, the moderator, and the co-founder of Deca, who mentioned the strategy chosen my The New York Times 10 years ago, when it put its opinion section behind the pay wall. He promptly continued by asking Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of The New York Times, weather she saw it as important to keep a clear distinction between the news and the opinion. ‘I am not a black-and-white zealot on this question’ – said Sullivan – but she does see this distinction as especially important on the internet, where the readers can’t see the context given by the newspaper, and might struggle with identifying the peace.
Mathews Ingram (Fortune magazine), and Jonathan Stein (Project Syndicate) argues that the lines between impartial reporting and opinion writing are getting increasingly blurry, thanks to the social media, and the rising profiles of individual journalists, which make readers increasingly aware of the fact that every journalistic piece is created by a single person with their good and bad days, and their biases.
Sullivan, agreeing with this fact, continued to underline the importance of a sense of impartiality in the reporting. She also reminded the panel that the greatest news stories of the last decade came from news reporters, and not opinion writers.
Lucy Marcus, from Project Syndicate, took a business point of view, saying that while opinion pieces are what characterises the publications, the news is the product the readers pay for. Opinion writers, Stein continued, are cheap – he can see that as the editor of Project Syndicate, when the pieces produces by the Projects’s experts are bought by publications around the world, who are laying off journalist following financial shortage.
Ingram, remembering his own experience as columnist in the previous years, tells that as the news story develops, it is getting increasingly hard for journalists to cover it, since they need to provide more insight. And in the age of Internet, it is often speed that counts most. According to Ingram, the Internet has changed the way opinion writers work, as well, since it allows them to update their work after it is published, and show the gradual evolution of their opinion.
The panelists discussed the unpredictable reactions of the public towards opinion pieces, and concluded with urging their fellow journalists and publishers to look for reasons that might lead the readers to pay for the content, which are still to be discovered.