Views / Opinion

New Torstar labels differentiate between news and opinion

Drawing a line between news and opinion has long been a company principle. A new labelling system seeks to make that distinction clearer, writes Kathy English.

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This is news, based in verified fact: Torstar has now taken concrete action to help its readers clearly differentiate between news and opinion on all its publishing platforms.

This is opinion, based on my perspective of that fact: This is an important, worthy and long-needed step in building reader trust in the digital news environment.

Drawing a clear line between news and opinion has long been a core value of the company. But, as I have stated in past, we have often fallen short of this principle — particularly within the digital environment where too many examples of opinion journalism have been presented with no clear signposts to indicate that what you are reading is not news but someone’s opinions about the news.

I am happy to now report to you: Our trust initiative is getting action.

Launched in May, the initiative considered how to foster greater reader trust and bridge the media literacy gap, identified the need to differentiate news from opinion as a priority issue.

Those at the most senior levels of this organization readily agreed with this priority. As a result, following considerable work in recent months by our Torstar newsrooms, digital development and design teams, we now have a better system in place to ensure our content is labelled correctly, including in the newspaper, the website and on social media.

Opinion pieces are more clearly marked on our homepages and within links shared from our site. Analysis pieces, which examine important issues and explain their impact by drawing from the authority and expertise of the writer, have also been more clearly distinguished.

In time, we expect to define and add more labels if we determine gaps. We will also likely see a few missteps as we seek consistency in how editors and reporters in our newsrooms apply these labels. This is in some measure a work in progress and we encourage our readers to tell us if these steps go far enough to helping you clearly differentiate news from opinion.

In the current media environment where opinions — often asserted as fact, particularly in the always-on world of cable news and the cacophony of social media — are everywhere and verified facts in shorter supply, knowing whether journalists and news organizations are reporting facts or expressing opinions has been identified by various global trust initiatives recently as a key indicator of trust.

“News organizations aren’t doing enough to help readers understand the difference between news, analysis and opinion,” Rebecca Iannucci, manager and editor in the Duke Reporters’ Lab wrote in a recent Poynter Institute article about a Reporters’ Lab study that examined the labelling practices of 49 news organizations.

“The findings are significant because journalists and educators are focusing on article labels as one way to address the decline in trust of the news media,” she wrote. “Labels help readers distinguish between news and opinion so they better understand different forms of journalism and can assess allegations of bias.”

This is especially important in the current digital environment because, as Iannucci says, “Readers often come to articles from links in social media and don’t know if an article is published in a news or opinion section unless it is labelled.”

Labelling to provide clear indicators to readers is also a core component of media literacy — important efforts to create deeper public understanding of what journalists do and how we work. As the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University in New York state says on its Digital Resource Center report about the line between news and opinion: “If they are committed to informing news consumers, news outlets are scrupulous about labelling.”

I have no doubt Torstar is committed to this principle. Again, we welcome your views on our labelling initiative and maintaining your trust. Send your emails to trust@thestar.ca.

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