Peter Funt Peter Funt, 7/15/2016 [Archive]

Opinion! Read All About It!

By Peter Funt

For as long as there have been printed newspapers there has been drama on page one in the form of NEWS! Only lately, as print struggles, is there much ado about OPINION!

It's hard to doubt the sincerity of editors who believe that certain brutal news developments require bold editorial responses, occupying entire front pages. The Orlando Sentinel reacts to a mass shooting by vowing "Our Community Will Heal"; The Boston Globe addresses gun violence with "Make it Stop"; The Arizona Republic demands "Start Fixing Immigration," and the San Francisco Chronicle's page-one editorial labels homelessness "A Civic Disgrace."

The Chronicle's editorial page editor, John Diaz, concedes that generally, "editorials are kept on the opinion pages." But, he adds, "In extraordinary circumstances ---- typically measured in decades ---- a newspaper may break from that church-state protocol to amplify an editorial statement at a critical moment in time."

Yet, for newspapers, what's most critical about the current moment in time is that they are losing readers and, correspondingly, the power to shape public opinion. The papers' over-amped cries for attention are as profound as the news stories themselves.

"Fix This Now" read the full-page front in the Indianapolis Star, calling for laws to protect the LGBT community from religious bias. "This city, our city" proclaimed The Dallas Morning News in a front-page editorial about the shooting of police officers.

This trend would be newsworthy (opinion-worthy?) even if it were limited to the machinations of newspaper editors. But more significant is that these front-page pronouncements reflect a broader change among all media: the effort to report news while also signaling that it comes from an organization with a specific point of view.

The New York Daily News has been in the vanguard of this trend, designing eye-catching front covers that hammer away at distinct opinions. The anti-Trump front pages alone ---- "Dawn of the Brain Dead," "Dead Clown Walking" and "I'm with Stupid" ---- have boosted the paper across social media platforms, providing far greater reach than its own circulation.

The News and its rival The New York Post have essentially morphed into print hybrids of cable news and online blogs. It's no longer enough to report the news that everyone already knows, so what emerges is a point of view.

This evolution was seen in the handling of sports and business news. As scores and stock prices became more readily available through digital feeds, newspapers, TV and radio shifted focus to analysis and opinion.

While front-page editorials remain a rarity at some papers ---- The New York Times' recent treatise on gun control was the first such effort by the paper in nearly a century ---- the increase in news "analysis" is more dramatic. Responsible editors are careful to label analysis yet it floats among the news stories and is written by news reporters, not columnists.

The most successful information program on cable-TV, Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor," begins each night with the host's opinions. While Mr. O'Reilly maintains that what follows is objective reporting, there is little mystery about where he stands on the issues.

This is the modern inversion in news formatting: first the opinions, then discussion about those opinions, followed by analysis of the discussion. When a newspaper devotes its entire front page to outlining its opinion, then backs its way into standard reporting, there isn't much difference.

Most of the nation's notable page-one editorials in recent months have come from highly respected papers, concerned about deeply moving topics. But as troubling as current events seem to be these days, they don't eclipse the worst of news in years gone by.

The news isn't changing, but styles of reporting are.

Dramatic, graphics-heavy editorials, occupying an entire front page, endanger the balance between hard news and opinion that readers still expect from responsible news organizations. That's my opinion; it need not run on page one.

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Peter Funt can be reached at www.CandidCamera.com

Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, "Cautiously Optimistic," is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com. © 2016 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.

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