My Opinion on Opinion

June 24, 2011

by Dan Ward

Thank you to Jim Romenesko and the Poynter Institute for drawing attention to a blog post by Fast Horse founder Jorg Pierach, which calls for newspapers to “get out of the opinion business.”

Pierach says that newspapers “risk alienating partisan readers, who now have the option of turning to other places for news that more closely fits their worldview,” and that the opinion pages that are good for civic discourse are “also bad for business.”

What’s next after losing the Opinion pages? If people are getting their business news from cable TV and ideologically slanted websites, should newspapers drop business coverage altogether? If more people turn to the Internet for movie reviews, should newspaper reviewers hit the road? If more go online to debate the performance of their favorite sports teams, should we lose the Sports pages?

The day that newspapers take Pierach’s advice will be a sad day indeed. Rather than giving people even one more reason to turn to outlets that “fit their worldview,” we should encourage people to seek out opinions with which they disagree, because that’s how we learn. If you are a rigid ideologue who has no use for those whose opinions do not match your own closely held beliefs, then by all means continue filtering your news. But for those who wish to listen to different voices in order to build their own judgments, the Opinion pages are critically important.

While I often critique our hometown newspaper and its news coverage that has suffered from ongoing budget and staff cuts, I find that its Opinion pages are well done. I don’t always agree with the organizational opinion of the Orlando Sentinel, but I almost always learn something. And rather than be accused of bias, under the leadership of Opinions Editor Mike Lafferty, the newspaper provides an equal measure of columns from the left, right and center.

I agree with Pierach that what sets newspapers apart is solid local reporting, news analysis and in-depth investigations. I also believe, however, that the newspaper’s role in providing opinion on both local and national issues, and in driving conversation and debate, is a unique selling proposition.

I would rather our newspapers go back to focusing on what makes them unique – including the Opinion pages – instead of changing who and what they are to compete for ever-important “Web clicks.”

That’s my opinion.


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