Critical Thinking: Does Cutting Back Editorials and Commentary Underestimate the Value of Journalism Or Is It A Sound Business Decision?

By: Nu Yang

Critical Thinking: Does Cutting Back Editorials and Commentary Underestimate the Value of Journalism Or Is It A Sound Business Decision?

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.

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3 thoughts on “Critical Thinking: Does Cutting Back Editorials and Commentary Underestimate the Value of Journalism Or Is It A Sound Business Decision?

  • December 11, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    No matter what your editorial position, you’ll piss someone off. The inevitable “cancel my subscription” letters have to move from their current status as a point of pride for the editorial staff to a potential land mine for the business. A perfect example is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which began to lose subscribers and advertisers when it endorsed a dead Democrat over a living Republican in the 2002 Senate election. The P-D would have slowed its slide into irrelevancy had it just kept its mouth shut and endorsed no one. You probably don’t know what local advertising decision-makers feel about Issue A, but if they disagree with you vehemently enough, they’ll choose to put their ad dollars somewhere else. The days when papers were the only way to reach customers are long gone, as you know–so why continue to act as though you still have the market muscle to promote political positions? That whole “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” thing went out with Charles Foster Kane. Most small and medium-sized business owners lean to the right, because they have to believe in individualism to go into business in the first place. Many (most, even) editorial writers lean left, because they’re fairly well protected from reality. The disconnect is putting some of you out of business, and you don’t even know it. The vaunted Chinese Wall is a really good way to keep revenues out of the building. Maybe you should talk to each other more, so you can keep your jobs.

  • December 12, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Our editorial/commentary page is one of the most read of our weekly newspaper. Whereas other weeklies have discontinued their Ed/OP page, ours has been good for us. What does this say about the question regarding the dropping of Ed/OP page? It says that we do not have the real, genuine journalists we once had in America. Today’s (whatever they are called) hacks are worthless as opinion makers and thought producers. The whole problem follows the political correctness suit. The latter has had newspapers dig a deep hole of banality that no longer is capable of stirring the public’s critical thinking. This is where the newspaper industry is today.

  • January 16, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    I’d like some honest responses to these questions: Many if not most newspapers charge for their print editions, but give away all of their content for free online. Yet the online versions continue to have few ads. What sense does this “business model” make? I know one local weekly newspaper that has put tremendous energy into its web site. It is attractive and is updated in a timely manner, providing for free all of the content for which subscribers to the print version must pay. Yet there is NOT ONE advertisement on the web site. What sense does this “business model” make?


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