Are newspapers becoming opinionpapers?
November 15, 2002 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Are newspapers becoming opinionpapers? Interesting article on the current preponderance of op-ed materials in newspapers. The papers are cutting back on news, especially international news, in favour of news lite or opinion columns. Or what's styled as opinion but is really pieces by "columnists" who are totally self-referential and whose idea of research is interviewing their own friends. The article is very Can-Con (high Canadian content) but it'll be interesting if Me-Fiers from other countries weigh in with data/observations about their own media. Canadian media doesn't probably doesn't stand alone in this trend.
posted by orange swan (19 comments total)

Maybe in Canada or England, but not in the U.S. -- and I'm talking about broadsheets and tabloids that don't scream about aliens and Michael Jackson... well, I guess those are poor examples these days...
posted by krewson at 10:35 AM on November 15, 2002

Are newspapers becoming opinionpapers?

Maybe in Canada they are, but here in America we have fine, objective news outlets like the New York Times to give us the unbiased lowdown on what's happening in the world.
posted by oissubke at 10:35 AM on November 15, 2002

I hate Leah McLaren as much as the next guy, but this article (from the decidedly humourless and terribly-written wannabe rabble-rouser mag "This") blows the whole op-ed thing waaaayyyy out of proportion. Yes, most Canadian papers have a handful of columnists, but they are all clearly labelled as columnists, and their work almost always appear on the (duh) op-ed page.

Of course, McLaren's silly rants about shoes and boyfriends only appear in the Saturday edition, in a section called "Style" -- which is not exactly where one expects to find hard-hitting news to begin with.
posted by Polo Mr. Polo at 10:44 AM on November 15, 2002

here in america they are lie-papers. but nobody reads them anymore, we just turn on the lie-o-vision.
posted by quonsar at 10:49 AM on November 15, 2002

Always have been, always will be. I was listening to Richard Nixons concession speech last week. He felt that the newspapers printed opinion, not news. This isn't new.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:50 AM on November 15, 2002

In other news, the sky is blue, and the Pope is Catholic.
posted by manero at 10:52 AM on November 15, 2002

and bears shit in the woods.
posted by quonsar at 10:57 AM on November 15, 2002

It's just another example of the increasing commericialization of news. The Op-Ed section is usually the most popular part of the paper, so it makes sense that newspapers would want more Op-Ed columns and less dry news coverage. I actually like reading Op-Eds, but I look at it more as entertainment than educational. It's appalling if serious papers actually are cutting out news to make room for more opinion columns.
posted by boltman at 10:59 AM on November 15, 2002

I found the bit about scaling back foreign bureaus, and having Marcus Gee cover "the world" for the Globe out of Toronto, to be interesting: that columnists are cost-effective when compared to a (foreign) bureau, in that good verbiage can be gotten for less cost, was an angle I hadn't expected.
posted by mcwetboy at 11:01 AM on November 15, 2002

I think the cited articles' problem is not one of fact but argument. The preponderance of MacLaren's and -- gack -- Ecklers is but a symptom of the real problem: Canadian newspapers have drastically cut back on the number of bodies in newsrooms, the number and size of foreign bureaux, and the budgets for special projects and investigations. It is cheaper to have some airhead prattle on about the minutaie of her daily life than pay a real journalist a living wage to, for example, follow up a tip or Access to Information request that might, months down the road, not even result in a story. This is also a problem in American newsrooms, though so far it is a matter of degrees.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:06 AM on November 15, 2002

Actually, the op-ed sections are frequently NOT the most-popular sections of the newspaper. Reader surveys for local newspapers show local news as the highest point of interest for readers. Frequently, the Op-Ed pages are among the lowest-read in the paper. It's not quieting the Ann Coulters of the world, but still. Notable exceptions are the New York Times on the left, and the Wall Street Journal on the right -- papers that have carved a strong voice on their editorial pages. But I'd urge the oh-so-cynical among you to read both those pages. Along the middle probably lies the truth.
posted by krewson at 11:16 AM on November 15, 2002

Interesting point, krewson. Combined with the point of the This article, we might argue that local news is expensive because its market is limited and is therefore one of the first things to be cut back (along with foreign bureaux); columnists can be syndicated, can work in large-market, national or international media, or, like foreign news (or even movie reviews), can come off the wire.
posted by mcwetboy at 11:21 AM on November 15, 2002

I look on this as a continuing part of newspapers bid to remain relevant. Dead trees can't compete with the immediacy of television and the internet when it comes to breaking news. So newspapers have moved more toward analysis and opinion. Of course this used to be the province of the weekly news magazines, so they too are looking for a new niche, mostly lifestyle reporting.
posted by trust_no_one at 11:26 AM on November 15, 2002

trust_no_one: Don't confuse speed of publishing with how the media works.

Newspapers and wire services still drive the news cycle. The vast majority of electronic news outlets -- both television and the internet -- either work directly from wire services or "rip-and-read": Look to see whatever is in the newspaper and go with that, often just switching the words around to avoid charges of outright plaigarism. I work in an shortwave broadcasting newsroom. Ninety-nine times out of one hundred I can watch a breaking news item pop up on my monitor -- all the computers in the newsroom get instant feeds of Reuters, AFP, CP, and about a dozen other -- and know that five to ten minutes later, a talking head on CNN on the monitor above my desk will say something like: "CNN has learned..."

Because of their historic authority and because they are the only outlets allowed to have some time to actually think about what they're saying, newspapers have tremendous influence in setting the news agenda. Newspapers cutting back on journalism -- the act of going out into the world, talking to people, gathering facts, then writing about it -- deprives the rest of the media world of the actual information it needs.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:34 AM on November 15, 2002

lupus_yonderboy, you beat me to it. I work in a newsroom at a mid-size paper, and we often watch our competitor in the broadcast world ripping and reading our stories the day after they appear. It's happened at both the newspapers I've worked for.
posted by krewson at 11:38 AM on November 15, 2002

krewson: Yeah, it's pretty shameless in every market I've ever heard about. And with "convergence" -- which I've come to believe is just a polite word for "monopolisation" -- soon the journalist writing the newspaper story and the one broadcasting the later piece will be (voila!) the same person. Progress.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:48 AM on November 15, 2002

Interesting, given that the recent surge of amateur pundits, aka webloggers, should only decrease the value of newspaper punditry.
posted by D at 12:04 PM on November 15, 2002

Here's the $64 question: will the next generation of newspapermen still just suck off the AP wire teat, or will they start using information gleaned from the Internet?
All it takes is a newspaper with 11 people: 5 Internet researchers, 5 writers, and 1 editor. And all of a sudden you have a radically informative newspaper (and copyright violations out the wazoo?)
posted by kablam at 2:56 PM on November 15, 2002

Always have been, always will be.
blue_beetle: I'm inclined to agree. From what I've seen of papers going back to the American Revoultion, and further elsewhere, it seems the idealized version many hold up today as a standard is just some Hollywood illusion.

Like many utopian standards which lead some folks to discount anything not attaining some unreal state as being intentionally evil. The cup is forever half empty for some.
posted by HTuttle at 8:46 PM on November 15, 2002

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