The Saratoga Sun -

Columns, editorials and news are not the same

 


Newspapers have a long history of being watchdogs for government, whether it is the White House or Town Hall. To be able to serve in that capacity, the readers of any newspaper should be able to trust what is being published. For a newspaper to do either of these things, it should not only ensure that there is a clear distinction between opinion and news, but report factually and objectively. When a newspaper fails to make clear the distinction between opinion and fact, it fails to meet the high standard to which it should be held.

Any elected official, whether town council member or senator, should take their seat with the understanding that their actions will be under the scrutiny of the local newspaper.

Criticism of elected officials from the newspaper can come in a variety of ways. In the case of the Saratoga Sun, this can come in three forms; an article, a column or an editorial.

Articles must be factual and objective. It is not the job of a journalist to tell a reader what to think about a particular issue. A journalist, in the presentation of their article, should present the facts of the matter in a way that allows the reader to come to their own conclusion. An article cannot, and should not, editorialize.

If a journalist editorializes in their article, they lose the trust of their reader. Those who read the newspaper are doing so to be informed and do so with the expectation that the information being presented is unbiased. If a journalist fails to do this, it can tarnish the reputation of their paper.

Now, more than ever, newspapers must strive to be objective and unbiased as people demand information. That information must be presented accurately and without being sensationalized. If a newspaper cannot do this, if it lowers itself to simply being a tabloid, the community suffers.

A column and an editorial, meanwhile, are vastly different.

A column can be written on a variety of topics, from the history of toilet paper to the importance of public lands or even the struggles of potty training.

Sometimes, a column will be written about an elected official. The text of that column and the opinions expressed within are those of the author and the author alone. These are easily identified by the author’s photo and byline accompanying a column.

No matter the position the author holds in the office, whether reporter or editor, the views expressed in a column do not wholly represent those of the paper. Other members of the newsroom can, and have, disagreed.

Lastly, an editorial is the “opinion,” if you will, of the newspaper. In recent history, the Sun has expressed an opinion about the importance of sportsmanship and the need for the One Percent Specific Purpose Sales and Use Tax. It is an unwritten policy in the Sun office that an editorial will not be published unless everyone in the newsroom agrees with the message.

After all, if we cannot at least convince everyone in one office of the validity of an argument, how can we possibly expect to convince a majority of our readers?

Over the weekend, a column from the pages of the Sun became the topic of discussion on, and off, social media. Some have lauded it, others have condemned it. It has been called both an editorial and an attack by the paper.

The truth of the matter is, whatever the intention of the author of an article, column or editorial, perception is everything.

However, if the readers of the paper have an issue with how something is presented, they must hold the newspaper accountable in the same way that the newspaper holds elected officials accountable.

You are, of course, free to write a letter to the editor that, barring slander or personal attack, will be printed.

Both the government and the newspaper are there to represent the people, after all.

 

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