April 28, 2021

When your student publication runs columns or editorials, how do you explain them to your readers and distinguish them from news stories? How does this distinction work online vs. in print?

The New York Times announced Monday that it’s changing the way it presents opinion pieces online, adding a bright red “Opinion” label and using a different headline font. It’s also retiring the “Op-Ed” label, which I learned this week means “opposite the editorial page.” The term just doesn’t make sense for an online audience, where the facing pages of a print newspaper don’t exist.

“Terms like ‘Op-Ed’ are, by their nature, clubby newspaper jargon; we are striving to be far more inclusive in explaining how and why we do our work,” opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury wrote.

The Times is taking a positive step, but there’s more to be done in explaining how opinion sections are distinct from news reporting. Journalism is full of jargon, and we can’t assume readers know what editorials mean, or how they differ from a column, or who makes up the editorial board.

Trusting News has done a lot of work on this topic — here’s a wealth of examples showing how different newsrooms explain opinion content to their readers.

I especially like this brief explanation that The Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller-Times adds to all its editorials: “This is an editorial: An editorial, like news reporting, is based on objective facts, but shares an opinion. The conclusions and opinions here have been derived by our Editorial Board and are not associated with the news staff.”

It’s also important to consider how opinion pieces will appear on social media, where readers will see them before even clicking into your website. Consider adding EDITORIAL: or COLUMN: before headlines for extra transparency.

Don’t take your audience’s trust for granted. Transparency efforts and explanations to readers will go a long way toward warding off future criticisms of bias.

Your calling goes beyond your job

It feels counterintuitive to include a piece about leaving journalism in a newsletter for student journalists, but Source’s “Exit Interviews” series is worth reading for its honest insight into the industry. Phoebe Gavin is a former journalist who moved to career counseling in March after working at ThinkProgress and Quartz.

This section of her interview stood out to me:

I think we’ve fetishized the idea that your job should be your passion. It’s ok for your job to just be a job. When journalists think of journalism as their ‘calling,’ they give power to an industry that is perfectly happy to chew us up, spit us out, and put up a new job listing the following week. I always ask my career coaching clients to separate the industry from the thing they feel called to do.

From my perspective, a calling isn’t a job or an industry. It’s an activity or an impact. When you can identify your calling in these terms, you can start to imagine many ways for it to exist in your life. For me, journalism was just one way I could help people make better decisions and live happier, balanced lives they’re proud and excited to live. I always knew that, so I didn’t have a bunch of emotional baggage tied up in leaving the industry.

I like the way Gavin approaches this: What gives your work meaning? That can translate to more than one career field.

I talked with journalist and author Anne Helen Petersen last month for The Lead, and much of what Gavin says echoes Petersen’s thoughts about burnout. Many of us entered journalism because we feel passionate about it, but it’s a hard truth that at the end of the day, you are an employee who will be subject to the whims of your employer. This generation of student journalists can be the ones to push their future workplaces to do better.

From Alma Matters

My colleague Barbara Allen wrote about the inaugural Dan Rather Medal for News and Guts awards, honoring great reporting from student and professional journalists. Madeleine Davison at Syracuse University won for a project covering the correlation between nursing center violations and the center’s switch to for-profit ownership — an excellent example of how students can look beyond their campuses for investigative stories.

Davison’s advice for other students pursuing sensitive stories: “Guide the conversation gently and with compassion. Let them decide what they feel comfortable publishing and check in with them again before you go to print. People are always more important than the story.”

(Journalism educators, subscribe to Poynter’s Alma Matters newsletter here.)

Remembering Aviva Okeson-Haberman

It’s been a challenging few days for the University of Missouri journalism community, including many of this newsletter’s readers. KCUR reporter and 2019 graduate Aviva Okeson-Haberman died on Saturday after a stray bullet struck her in her Kansas City apartment.

Aviva was in the class below me at Mizzou and was a standout reporter as a student, earning awards for her investigation into Missouri’s elder abuse hotline. She covered Missouri politics and government at NPR affiliate KCUR after graduating, making an impact on her community even in her two years as a professional journalist.

Her loss is devastating for the local journalism community. Read a moving tribute from her KCUR colleagues and listen to an NPR tribute.

Last call: Tell me about your remote internship experiences

Last summer, many newsrooms ventured into the world of remote internships for the first time during the pandemic — and while some newsrooms have returned to the office, many will still be hosting remote interns this year. If you’ve done a remote internship in the past year, I want to hear about your experience to help both students and employers figure out what they can do to make the experience as valuable as possible.

This is the last call! Email me at blatchfordtaylor@gmail.com with a paragraph or two responding to the following. I’ll feature a selection of responses in an upcoming newsletter.

  • What worked well during your remote internship?
  • What advice would you give students entering remote internships this summer?
  • What did your internship coordinator do to make the remote experience valuable?

A new Poynter course

As a college freshman, a student newspaper colleague and I created a Vox-card-style-explainer (remember those?) about Title IX. The University of Missouri had recently hired a new Title IX administrator and mandated a Title IX training for all students, and we wanted to make sure students understood what the law entailed.

Poynter now has a free Title IX course designed for student journalists that I’m sure is many, many times better than our humble explainer. You’ll get a thorough lesson on the role of Title IX at universities and a tip sheet with reporting ideas.

Opportunities and trainings

💌 Last week’s newsletter: Protest policies: The first line of defense for student journalists

📣 I want to hear from you. What would you like to see in the newsletter? Have a cool project to share? Email blatchfordtaylor@gmail.com.

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Taylor Blatchford is a journalist at The Seattle Times who independently writes The Lead, a newsletter for student journalists. She can be reached at blatchfordtaylor@gmail.com…
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