Critical Thinking: Does Cutting Back Editorials and Commentary Underestimate the Value of Journalism Or Is It A Sound Business Decision?
Posted: 12/11/2013  |  By: Nu Yang
The Pew Research Center recently reported that more daily newspapers are cutting the amount of newsprint they devote to editorials and commentary due to shrinking newsrooms and space. Do you think this trend underestimates the value of journalism or is it a sound business decision?     

Kevin Rogers, 21, senior, St. Bonaventure (N.Y.) University
Rogers is a political science and journalism and mass communication double major. He is currently the managing editor for The Bona Venture, St. Bonaventure University’s student-run newspaper. He works freelance as a daily aggregator and occasional reporter for EnergyGuardian, an energy and environmental policy newsletter.  

While it’s regrettable when any newspaper has to cut content in the name of finances, cutting opinion and editorials is a reasonable business decision for cash-strapped newspapers. Of course, editorials and commentary are essential components of a successful newspaper. They allow experts and community members a chance to offer their take on current news and can foment wider discussions within the paper’s reach. That said, editorials and opinions should not have priority over a newspaper’s more essential functions.  

Objective reporting ought to be the main focus of daily newspapers, and limited funds are better spent to preserve this essential function. If that means some editorial content needs to be cut, it’s for the best. It’s an unfortunate choice to have to make, but when it comes to a choice between funding objective reporting or commentary, reporting needs to win out. Reporting is the reason newspapers exist; everything else is expendable when it comes to budget.  

Beyond putting a priority on objective coverage, leaner opinion pages should ultimately boost quality. Limited space requires editors to make judgments on what should be presented to the reader, and writers must compete to produce the best content. It’s far easier to publish mediocre writing when there is more space to fill. Content will be limited by a slimmer opinion section, but the content should reflect a higher quality of writing.  

Of course, web-based content offers a chance to alleviate the loss of printed opinion content. Additional commentary and editorials can be posted on newspapers’ websites for customers hungry for more opinion writing. But when it comes to the printed newspaper, the focus and funds need to remain with objective reporting.            

Nolan Finley, 58, editorial page editor, The Detroit News
Finley has been with The Detroit News since 1976, starting as a copy boy, and served in a variety of reporting and editing roles before taking over the editorial page in 2000. He is a graduate of Wayne State University and a 2012 inductee into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame.  

One way newspapers can set themselves apart in an increasingly crowded news market is with vigorous commentary and opinion pages.  

Editorials give newspapers a personality, a distinct voice, and help establish their credibility in the community.  

Everyone is a pundit these days, with the explosion of Facebook, Twitter and blogs. And partisan talking heads are everywhere, from websites to cable networks. So why is the newspaper opinion page still a vital tradition?  

Because it offers readers a perspective they can trust is not beholden to special interests. Editorials also set one newspaper apart from another, an important consideration in the few cities such as Detroit that still have two major dailies. Here, readers have traditionally selected one newspaper or the other based on the positions of their editorial pages. It's a tradition here that’s been passed from generation to generation.  

Readers can get the news in so many different places, but the editorial pages of a trusted newspaper are where they find perspective that may help them understand the news better, and perhaps help them shape their own opinions. And the op-ed pages provide them with first-hand commentary from their community and political leaders. It’s where readers can debate the issues of the day. And it’s where lawmakers and local officials turn to gauge what citizens are thinking.  

Editorial boards aren’t distant commentators, swooping in with the occasional viewpoint. The people who comprise these boards know their communities. They care deeply about the issues they write about.  

When a newspaper kills its editorial page, it loses its voice. Without a distinct voice, it’s more difficult for a newspaper to be heard above the clang and clatter of today's journalism.