This feedback forum is designed to give readers a way to voice criticisms and compliments or ask questions about The Californian’s news coverage. Your questions — which may be edited for space — are answered here each Saturday by The Californian’s Robert Price.
Price: I'm of the opinion that American news consumers have a responsibility to vet information that purports to be factual, be it straight news, analysis or commentary, and reject the junk. Evidence suggests they're not living up to that responsibility very well.
But evidence also suggests that responsible news media organizations aren't doing a very good job of helping consumers make those calls. Newspaper reporters appear on TV shows and offer up their opinions; stories that take a point of view appear, without special designation, alongside articles that are, ostensibly, straight, unbiased portrayals of events.
Then we've got the editorial pages, where columnists and editorial boards, both local and national, attempt to make persuasive arguments in support of their opinions. Where does the straight news end and the opinions begin?
Studies show that readers don't always understand what's supposed to be straight, unbiased information and what's not. Now, newspapers are starting to take steps to fix that, and we here at The Californian are on board.
Our editing team, led by Christine Peterson, has developed a story-labeling policy that we think achieves the clarity readers deserve. It's modeled after the approach taken by The Washington Post, which uses an extensive labeling system on its website. It does not label what we'd call a traditional news story — the reader is expected to understand that stories without a label, are, indeed, straight news.
Here's what the Post uses, with that newspaper's verbatim definitions:
Analysis: Interpretation of the news based on evidence, including data, as well as anticipating how events might unfold based on past events.
Perspective: Discussion of news and topics with a point of view, including narratives by individuals regarding their own experience.
Review: A professional critic's assessment of a service, product, performance or artistic or literary event.
Opinion: A column or article in the opinion section. (In print, this is known as the Editorial Page.)
In The Californian's Opinion section, we use columns "sigs" that include the writer's photo. We place opinions on the Viewpoints page, another word for what The Washington Post calls "perspectives."
What we need to start doing better: Labeling analysis and reviews. And so we shall. Look for those labels, henceforth, attached to the appropriate articles.
Does this approach achieve the objective? I hope so, but we want your input. If our labels don't seem clear, or if you think they've been misapplied, let me know.
Reader: Congratulations, I am so pleasantly surprised. On Oct. 9, you printed three conservative opinions. I am in awe but I guess we will not see many more in the months ahead. The three were, one, "My doubts about single-payer just show I'm sick in the head," by Joe Matthews; two, "Law, born of UC scandal, will punish audit interference," by Dan Walters, and, three, a Dallas Morning News "Other Views" editorial, "IRS no-bid contract for Equifax is an embarrassment."
These three opinions were right on and informed me about issues I didn't have much knowledge of. Thank you for printing them; I wish I could read more like these rather than the usual "liberal minded" ones you usually print.
— Eugene Hacker
Price: Those were indeed three excellent opinion articles, each of which addressed in some way the need for ethical, accountable, transparent government. I'm not sure how that makes them "conservative" positions, though.
Walters' column praises a bill written by a Democratic assemblyman, passed by a Democrat-dominated legislature and signed by a Democratic governor. The no-bid contract awarded by the IRS was criticized by members of both parties: The editorial quotes the Senate Finance Committee's ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden, as declaring his intent to "take every measure possible to prevent taxpayer data from being compromised as this arrangement moves forward.” And Mathews, who is moderate, perhaps leaning ever so slightly leftward, expresses reservations about California's single-payer healthcare proposal largely based on his concerns about what it might do to future funding of education and affordable housing, two budget items high on Democratic priority lists.
The fact that all three columns raise indisputably valid points does not make them, in my mind, conservative or liberal. I see more evidence of an interesting phenomenon at work here: If it's good, it's proof that my personal ideological preferences are being served; if it's bad, it's the work of the other side.
Reader: News media in general appear to consistently refer to atrocities by either being a terrorist attack or mass murder depending on the race of the perpetrator. If Stephen Paddock were from a different race group, the attack would have been considered a terrorist attack. However, he was Caucasian and it is referred to as a mass murder. Why such distinction is made is very unclear. The act of terrorism by a fellow American or a descendant of another country is horrific nonetheless. In my humble opinion, Stephen Paddock is considered a terrorist to me. The killings and injuries in Las Vegas were an act of terrorism on our nations soil.
— Patricia Arredondo
Price: In my mind the difference between terrorism and mass murder is the motivation of the killer. Terrorists kill in the name of a political or religious cause. Mass murderers kill out of anger or for some sociopathic thrill. Until we hear otherwise I think is in the latter category.
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