For the record, I write articles, not columns

I covered a meeting this week where at least two people publicly mentioned my work.

It’s nice to know people read your stuff, but it’s always a little awkward when you’re mentioned out loud. We reporters try to stay off to the side and observe things, not be a part of things.

But what was even more awkward was that twice my work was referred to as “columns.”

Yikes!

Nothing makes a news reporter cringe more than when readers think you write columns.

For the record, I write news articles. My articles contain facts. They do contain opinions — other people’s opinions. But not my opinions.

If I’m doing my job well, you shouldn’t be able to tell what I think about the topic, other than I think it’s important for people to know about it.

I try to cover all the angles to a story and let people on different sides of an issue weigh in.

For example, this is why an article I wrote over the weekend about Magothy River Day included quotes from people who want the river’s Dobbins Island beach to be open to the public, as well as quotes from the island owner who wants to build a private home. Nowhere in there is any indication about what I think about what should happen to the island.

This is not meant to bash columns. A well-written column shares an opinion, but it also is full of facts. The best columnists research their columns as well as a reporter researches an article, often by conducting interviews, attending meetings and reviewing public documents. My colleague Eric Hartley does a great job of this.

But when you read Eric or other columnists, understand that their aim is to make a point, and maybe get you to come on board with their opinion. My aim is to simply share important information and let you decide what to think about it.

I’m inspired in my work by a comment from the late Katharine Graham from The Washington Post. When I was a student reporter for The Diamondback at the University of Maryland, I covered the grand opening of a Post printing plant in College Park.

More than anything else, I remember Ms. Graham saying this: “Newspapers give people the information they need to make democracy work.”

That’s what I do in my articles. I give you information.

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8 thoughts on “For the record, I write articles, not columns

  1. As the columnist Pam referenced, I get the opposite problem, people thinking I write straight news articles and blasting me for injecting opinion. That’s despite the “columnists” header at the top of my columns online or the fact that my column is published in the paper with a logo that includes my picture, which should be a clue to people.

    Pam laid out the differences between news articles and columns well. When done well, they’re both crucial to a good newspaper.

    Articles provide the unvarnished truth as best it can be determined, giving the facts to people to let them make up their own minds. Columns can say things articles cannot — and should not — including calling public officials out for lies or hypocrisy. They also can inspire you to think, even if you don’t agree with the columnist’s take. When a day’s columns and articles touch on the same subjects — as they often, but not always, do — a smart reader looks at both and comes away better informed.

  2. Hi Pam!

    I found your blog through Paul’s Facebook page. It’s worse for me – people think I write ads and they have to pay for submitting items! Double, maybe triple, yikes!

    Not to confuse things further, but sometimes, columns – like the neighborhood community columns in the Gazette – are supposed to have no opinion as well. But you don’t pay for getting items in the paper on the editorial side. That doesn’t mean I can put in whatever you want as you want it, however.

    Oy. I think I did confuse non-journalists further. I’m debating whether to kill this comment outright, but I think it’s also important to note the difference between the editorial and advertising sides of the business.

    Most columnists write as Pam and Eric said. If you see several columns together all with a certain theme, i.e. neighborhood events, we are more like reporters than columnists.

  3. That’s a good point, Jennifer. We probably do confuse people! You’re called a columnist and you have a picture like Eric, but what you write is news and features — not opinion. I guess perhaps a title like “correspondent” might clue people in that it’s really reporting. Or it might confuse people further!

    I also occasionally get the calls from people asking things like, “How much does it cost to put my press release in your paper?” Times like that, I’m actually at a loss for words.

  4. Eric, I like your point that readers can be well-served by reading both news stories and opinion columns. Each type of writing offers unique benefits to the reader. I always appreciate a well-reasoned argument — even if I don’t agree, it can give me pause and cause me to re-evaluate my opinion on the matter at hand.

  5. I am so on board with Pam’s assessment. More and more of our readers on the Shore, it seems, have concluded that the crazy opinionated talking heads from cable networks occupy the same “mainstream media” category as professional, unbiased, objective capital-j Journalists.

    And it’s a difficult argument for a legit journalist to counter because, I believe, among other reasons, a news article occupies a reader/viewer for a far shorter amount of time than a ranting host of a TV show.

    So when I want to explain that a significant majority of professional reporters in America are, in fact, totally unbiased, who are our readers going to believe? Me, or Glenn Beck?

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