Opinion has no place in coverage

February 28, 2009

Opinions aren't hard to come by. Everybody has them.

Even those of us who report the news.

The trick for professional newspeople is to make sure the opinions we hold do not find their way into our reporting, editing, headline writing and story or photo placement.

It is impossible to overstate how important it is that a news organization's coverage be unbiased, unflavored by the opinions of its staff.

A newspaper's greatest asset is its credibility with its readers. A newspaper that routinely injects personal opinion into stories on its news pages will not -- and should not -- have that credibility for long.


These days, some members of the media blur the line between news and opinion. And the sad truth is some readers, viewers and/or listeners don't realize that's the case.

It is not unusual for a call to come into our newsroom from someone who is irate because we are not reporting some piece of information they believe is important.

In such cases, it also isn't unusual for us to be accused of covering up the truth because of our bias -- perceived to be conservative or liberal, depending on the caller.

Here's the thing. When I question the caller to find out the source of the information, it frequently turns out that source was a commentator on a radio or television show, or someone writing a blog on the Internet.

Problem is, commentary isn't news.

Commentators on both ends of the political spectrum offer their opinions, which they have the right to do. But it should be made clear they aren't newspeople and they are not reporting the news. They are, at least in my opinion, entertainers. Getting their fans riled up is the name of that game.

Even so, their fans have every right to share their opinions.

But it's important not to confuse opinions with facts.

What I write here is my opinion, and anyone reading this can agree or disagree with what I have to say.

At the same time, we can check out for ourselves whether those we listen to on the radio or watch on TV are providing us with fact or opinion.

That can be a tough task because, on some news networks, those who are considered newsmen and newswomen, and even anchors, offer their opinions about the very news they're reporting. We're not talking analysis here, just good old-fashioned opinion.

Perhaps this is done in an effort to make those who deliver the news seem more sympathetic, more down to earth. It's my opinion that such a practice does a disservice to those who get their news from those folks.

But don't take my word (or opinion) on this.

I would suggest that adopting anyone else's opinion, from any spot along the political spectrum, should be accompanied by an attempt to get the unvarnished facts for oneself.

It's not only the wise thing to do, but it is our obligation as Americans to avoid following blindly, to search for the truth in more than one place, to try to get to the bottom of whatever it is we're interested in.

Opinions without facts, as history has proved, can be scary things.

Linda Duffield is city editor of The Herald-Mail. She can be reached by e-mail at

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