Saturday, August 21, 2010

Interpretation and Other Non-Objective Stuff

Question from a journalist in training:
He asks if the following is editorializing and does it have a place in a news story:
The quip from the NY Times today, which is conveniently not featured online, was in the article about Gov. Schwarzenegger's plan to extend insurance to everyone in California. It started with a quote from him and ended with something along the lines of  "'Everyone in California must have health insurance,' he said in a manner that was almost as much a threat as it was a promise."

My answer (what do you think?):
It may not be editorializing per se - but it is certainly interpretive and it is an interpretation from a very subjective nuance of speech - probably based on a context of background knowledge on the part of the reporter. As you note, it was redacted in online version, so it looks like an editor questioned how the reporter would know this - just like a photo where you say someone is smiling - facial expressions can also be a very subjective interpretation. You might check out the following:

New York Times Readers’ Guide

Following is a note from the Times' Web site, which then linked to the explication of different kinds of news coverage. This offers an excellent explanation of these distinctions.

The Times has introduced several design changes in its daily news pages to underscore the distinctions between straightforward news coverage and other journalistic forms that provide additional perspective on events.


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.

Here are descriptions of the various forms:
  • Man or Woman in the News: A portrait of a central figure in a news situation. It is not primarily analytical, but highlights aspects of the subject’s background and career that shed light on that figure’s role in the current event.
  • Reporter's Notebook: A writer’s collection of several anecdotes or brief reports, often supplementing coverage of a major news event like a summit meeting or an important trial. The items provide glimpses behind the scenes that flesh out the reader’s sense of a major story.
  • Memo: A reflective article, often with an informal or conversational tone, offering a look behind the scenes at issues or political developments. The article (with a title like Political Memo, White House Memo or Memo From London) may draw connections among several events, or tell the reader who or what shaped them.
  • Journal: A sharply drawn feature article focusing on a place or event (and labeled with the place name, whether foreign, national or regional). A Journal article is closely observed and stylishly written, often light or humorous in tone. It is intended to give the reader a vivid sense of a place and time.
  • 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.
  • News-Page Column: A writer’s regularly scheduled essay, offering original insight and perspective on the news. The column often has a distinctive point of view and makes a case for it with reporting. (Columns in the newspaper are displayed with the writer’s name and the column’s title inset into the text.) The news sections also present a number of regular feature articles that carry labels indicating the topics – for example, the Saturday Profile in the foreign pages and Market Place in Business Day.
  • 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.
  • Editorial Observer: A signed article by a member of the editorial board. These articles have a more distinct personal voice than an editorial. They often reflect personal experiences or observations, and may be written in the first person. These articles are not intended to be policy pronouncements, but do not contradict the board’s 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.