Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How is straightforward news coverage in a daily newspaper different from the content on the editorial and Op-Ed pages? How does a review differ from an editorial? Who is an Op-Ed contributor?

And other important questions that readers (must) have.

If such are the questions readers have, then the New York Times, one of the world's greatest newspapers, has the answers in the form of a very thoughtful Readers' Guide:

In its daily news pages, The Times presents both straightforward news coverage and other journalistic forms that provide additional perspective on events. These special forms — news analysis articles, columns and others — adhere to standards different from those of the editorial and Op-Ed pages. The news and editorial departments do not coordinate coverage and maintain a strict separation in staff and management.

All articles, columns, editorials and contributions in the newspaper are subject to the same requirements of factual accuracy.

This is followed by "descriptions of the various forms".


  • News Analysis: A close examination of the ramifications of an important news situation. It includes thorough reporting, but also draws heavily on the expertise of the writer. The article helps the reader understand underlying causes or possible consequences of a news event, but does not reflect the writer's personal opinion.
  • Appraisal: A broad evaluation, generally by a critic or a specialized writer, of the career and work of a major figure who has died. The article often accompanies the obituary.
  • Review: A specialized critic's appraisal of works of creativity — movies, books, restaurants, fashion collections. Unlike other feature writers, critics are expected to render opinions in their areas of expertise.

  • Editorial: A sharply written, generally brief article about any issue of public interest. Editorials are written by the editorial board of The Times, which includes the editorial page editor, the deputy and assistant editors, and a group of writers with expertise in a variety of fields. While the writers' opinions are of great importance, the editorials also reflect the longtime core beliefs of the page. Unlike the editors of the news sections, the editorial page editor not only reports to the publisher, but consults with him on the page's positions. Editorials are based on reporting, often original and in-depth, but they are not intended to give a balanced look at both sides of a debate. Rather, they offer clear opinion and distinct positions.
  • Op-Ed Column: An essay by a columnist on the staff of The Times, reflecting the opinions of the writer on any topic. Columnists are expected to do original reporting. Some travel extensively. Op-Ed columns are edited only for style and usage, not for content. Columnists do not submit their topics for approval, and are free to agree or disagree with editorial positions.
  • Op-Ed Contribution: An article by a person not on the staff of The Times, reflecting opinions about a topic on which the author is an expert or has provocative and well-reasoned ideas. These articles, most of which are solicited by the editors, are not intended to reflect the positions of the editorial board. Indeed, the Op-Ed page is seen as a forum to air diverse and challenging viewpoints.
Study the Readers' Guide in its entirety here.

As far as I know there are not many newspapers in India that make it easy for readers to grasp the finer nuances of journalistic terms. Of the ones that do, Mint has possibly the most comprehensive Code of Conduct. The Code explains, among other things, the newspaper's journalistic standards and discusses in detail the rules Mint journalists follow when it comes to attribution, quotations, the use of anonymous sources, and the use of graphics and images.

Under the rubric "Attribution", we learn the definitions of, for instance,"on the record", "off the record", and "deep background" (those who have watched All the President's Men will be able to link "deep background" with Deep Throat).

There will be many readers, by the way, who may be surprised to learn that Mint has very strict rules against altering or manipulating the content of a photograph in any way:

The content of a photograph must not be altered in PhotoShop or by any other means. No element should be digitally added to or subtracted from any photograph. The faces or identities of individuals must not be obscured by PhotoShop or any other editing tool. Only retouching or the use of the cloning tool to eliminate dust and scratches are acceptable.

Minor adjustments in PhotoShop are acceptable. These include cropping, dodging and burning, conversion into grayscale, and normal toning and color adjustments that should be limited to those minimally necessary for clear and accurate reproduction (analogous to the burning and dodging often used in darkroom processing of images) and that restore the authentic nature of the photograph. Changes in density, contrast, color and saturation levels that substantially alter the original scene are not acceptable. Backgrounds should not be digitally blurred or eliminated by burning down or by aggressive toning. When an employee has questions about the use of such methods or Mint requirements and limitations on photo editing, he or she should contact the photo editor/art director prior to the use of any image.

Two more paragraphs follow. Haven't all bases been covered? I would say yes.

In addition to spelling out journalistic standards, the Code also provides specifics on issues related to integrity as well as professional conduct, political and civic activities as well as personal conduct. It deals, too, with accounting and finances, employment, and environmental concerns.

Read Mint's Code of Conduct in its entirety here. Be an informed reader. Demand more of your newspaper.

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