Is the internet killing opinion journalism?

 
A Seattle Times newspaper on March 1, 2001, the day after the city experiences a 6.8 magnitude earthquake The Seattle Times continues to provide a forum, both online and in print, for readers to air their views

It's no secret that the internet age has been bad for the print media business in general and newspapers in particular. But what has it meant for the world of opinion? Has the ease with which the average person can share their views with the public been an unmitigated good? Or have we paid a price in the quality of debate?

I put these questions to Kate Riley, the editorial page editor of the Seattle Times, one of the more forward-thinking newspaper newsrooms in the US. Here's what she had to say:

I think the Internet age is good for the business of opinion, especially newspaper editorial pages - um, make that media opinion enterprises. We all, after all, are in transition and are figuring out how the business model transforms.

There are the trolls, of course, who throw mud in the comment sections of every published article - not so useful.

Start Quote

I promise each caller that they will find things they agree with on our pages and things they don't agree with”

End Quote Kate Riley The Seattle Times

But where I really think that opinion pages are making a difference is in modelling that old-school civil discourse. Disagree but don't be disagreeable. Be tart and clever without name-calling. Especially because of the mission of newspapers serving a general community's readership, not just those of a certain ideology, readers can stretch their own thinking on issues by reading pro and con columns side-by-side.

People often call me to complain about running too many conservative columnists or too many liberal, and I explain that is the role of our opinion section and part of its mission statement: to be a forum for community dialogue and learning. I promise each caller that they will find things they agree with on our pages and things they don't agree with. And that's the point.

Readers/viewers/users - or whatever you want to call them - have an appetite for opinion. Editorial pages can cater to that and provide opinion content in many different ways. We do chats often, and we recently ran our second Google Hangout around campaign finance issues during the lunch hour. Last year, we enlisted readers through social media to advance the same-sex marriage issue - and received 315 photos, representing more than 1,000 people.

A popular feature, Civil Disagreement, between one of our most liberal writers and our most conservative, thoughtfully, respectfully hashes out issues of the day.

First rule? No ideological talking points.

At The Seattle Times, we have much more opinion content online than in print, and I've come to view the printed page as the best of our online content, whether it's a letter worth highlighting or a blog post to be excerpted.

Around the US, newspapers and purveyors of opinion are grappling with the challenges of the internet and social media. Establish writers are having to adapt, and new voices are being revealed. I'll ask them what they think the futures holds and share their take with Echo Chambers readers.

 

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    Comment number 16.

    I think the BBC does a marvelous job of unbiased reporting. True the story is in the eye of the beholder, but that's what editors are for. A well produced piece is a team effort of which cannot be taken away.
    We are in the infant stages of opinion posting and already i am seeing some rather good posts. These people i tend to follow. Mob mentality is out there, but it is easy to see and avoid.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 15.

    Englishman: By way of example - the number of people here in the US who genuinely believe that Obama is a Muslim is proof of less than educated masses

    Including many bloggers such as myself here on BBC website

    The reason why I believe such is because I am educated and I am interested in knowing the truth

    Look up Obama Monsanto and you can see that Obama is Monsanto's biggest lobbyist

  • rate this
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    Comment number 14.

    There is no way that journalism can be completely objective,and reporting on present/past history always involves personal choices,such as the lens
    of the beholder who describes,and the span of time to explain cause/effect
    as to the story in the news.Political opinions do matter and clash everywhere in the World,in History and Journalism,so tolerance is rare.
    Writing is only an Art,not a Science.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 13.

    There are intelligent media, e.g., the BBC, the "Globe and Mail", (Toronto), and then there are the Internet blogs, CNN, etc. Right-wing rabidity and under-educated, uninformed, or stupid readers are destroying well-researched opinions by knowledgeable writers by flooding information sources with nonsense.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 12.

    I think the BBC does a pretty good job of moderating the comments sections. Sometimes they'll get carried away with deleting posts from one side of an issue and not the other, but it is far better than the free for all at CNN.

 

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