Schwartz: Recognize the important distinction between opinion, news

Alex Schwartz, Assistant Opinion Editor

There’s a reason why columns and editorials are often printed on a page without news articles. There’s a reason why Daily staffers can’t write columns and report on the news in the same quarter. And there’s a reason why we call this the Opinion “section”: There is a difference between news articles and columns just as there is a difference between facts and opinions.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, opinion writing has been at the core of modern U.S. journalism since its inception. Until late in the 19th century, many U.S. newspapers were highly partisan, in many cases funded by the political factions they supported. Newspaper owners began pivoting to objective coverage mainly for financial gain — not pandering to any particular political view meant a larger audience and greater profit. But readers seemingly still had an appetite for opinionated journalism, and most publications compartmentalized their editorials and columns. Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune, is believed to have created the concept of a separate opinion page, a model many papers adopted soon after.

And that, more or less, is where The Daily is today — primarily concerned with reporting the news as accurately and as objectively as possible, but having a separate desk for opinion journalism. As readers of not only this publication, but other media as well, it is important to remember this distinction: Not all pieces are objective, and the ones that are opinionated — at least at The Daily — are clearly marked as such. In order for the Northwestern community to maintain a productive discourse about the various issues on and off campus that The Daily covers, we must be aware when we are reading facts and when we are reading opinions.

It’s important that The Daily works hard to ensure every opinion represented here is balanced and backed up with facts, but that doesn’t mean that columns and news articles should be conflated. When engaging in dialogue, the ideas presented in opinion pieces should be presented not as objective facts but as additional, fact-based perspectives we can use to inform our debates.

In an age of alternative facts and echo chambers, it’s important both to search for objective journalism and to expose oneself to a variety of different perspectives on any given issue. This means reading both news articles and opinion pieces, keeping in mind that the former is based in objectivity while the latter is purposefully biased.

Lately, with fake news popping up left and right, staying informed can be tough. But recognizing that opinion columns and reported news are very different things can better prepare us for campus dialogues, which are informed not only by this publication, but by all sources of journalism.

This year, it’s vital that this section continues to try to expose readers to the widest possible range of balanced, fact-based perspectives and experiences at NU. While this section cannot claim to have unbiased, objective content, it can offer a personal spin on issues we as a community face. Members of this community should recognize that voicing their own views pertaining to those issues is necessary.

The Opinion section is not just a relic from journalism’s partisan past — it’s a vital supplement to a news publication that wishes to foster campus debates. This year, just as they and other journalists throughout history always tried to do, our reporters will continue to stick to the facts. And our columnists will continue to weigh in on them.

Alex Schwartz is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.