Opinions Matter

MORGAN LEGEL | mlegel@butler.edu | Asst. Opinion Editor

Opinions. Everyone has them, and a lot of people discuss them frequently. But it takes passion, understanding and tolerance to put them down in writing, biases and all, for the public to see.

Sadly, some important newspapers no longer believe that opinion columnists have much to offer. 

Most recently, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Kansas City Star and South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel, among others, have all made changes to their opinion sections by either firing the writers, moving solely online or scrapping the section as a whole.

Bob Hall, publisher for The Philadelphia Inquirer, said, “(The decision to cut the editorial section of The Philadelphia Inquirer) was not done at all for cost-cutting purposes. (It had) too many editorials, too much bias,” according to the Pew Research Center.

To understand the thought behind this, and why it is a short-sighted decision, we have to look at why editorials are important to the newspaper business.

Back in our parents’ America, newspapers were a dominant and authoritative voice within a community. The papers that existed were mostly mainstream and rather small in numbers. With this lack of competition, taking a stand on issues made sense.

This is no longer the world we live in and we are supposed to accept that, according to an article from Newstex Authoritative Content.

While things have certainly changed, I disagree with its assessment. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t see any other competition around for The Butler Collegian or The Indianapolis Star. There is still a singular authoritative voice for both the campus and the bustling city that surrounds us.

Therefore, the articles put forth in both papers can be seen as the dominant voices within their respective communities.

Terri Jett, an associate professor at Butler University,  said she believes that, while all news has a bias, the opinion section’s deliberate bias is reasonable and needed.

“The news doesn’t necessarily give an in-depth understanding of a particular issue, or doesn’t necessarily provide all the details,” Jett said. “The opinion piece largely will come from someone who has done a significant amount of research, rather than doing something relatively quick to get a story out.

“Not saying that it doesn’t have a bias, because I believe that all news does, but the opinion piece is a deliberate perspective coming from a person who, based on how the writer presents him or herself, the public understands has a particular reason for writing an opinion piece.”

Now that we understand why editorials are important, the next step is to analyze why they are newsworthy.

There are nine principles that define a journalistic work, according to Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project:

1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth;

2. Its first loyalty is to citizens;

3. Its essence is a discipline of verification;

4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover;

5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power;

6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise;

7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant;

8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional;

9.  Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

According to these standards, the opinion section is just as much a journalistic work as any other news article. In fact, the opinion section may even exercise a few of these principles better than news.

For example, as Jett said, opinion section writers generally have more time to work on their pieces, and therefore, do more research and have the facts clear in their mind so they can make their points.

Because of the research involved, opinion pieces clearly discuss their topics in a comprehensive way because there is more freedom to say what is necessary to understand. The pieces also provide an interesting outlet for their topics by looking at them in a different light than a news article would have to.

Understanding why editorials are important and analyzing why they are newsworthy are two ideas that newspapers may miss in the future. 

Opinion sections should not become a lost form of journalistic art. They should push through to the forefront of papers and show their true potential.