Sunday, June 13, 2010

ASNE president: Teach difference between news and opinion

With online sources and now television blurring the line between news and opinion, it's more important _ and also more challenging _ for high school journalism teachers to emphasize ethical principles, the president of the American Society of News Editors said Sunday.

That includes teaching high school journalists the difference between news and opinion, said Milton Coleman, senior editor of The Washington Post.

"There's nothing wrong with opinion. It's just not news," Coleman (shown at left) told 34 educators attending the ASNE Reynolds High School Journalism Institute. "And we ought to say that."

The difference can be difficult to understand these days, he said, when online sources and an increasing number of television programs follow different standards of ethics than traditional news organizations, including mixing news with opinion.

When it comes to news, Coleman said, "Its credibility comes from the fact that people believe that we are going as straight down the middle as we can."

For me, this point brought to mind concerns from many high school journalism instructors that students simply want to use the newspaper or Web site to offer their opinions.

As Coleman said, opinion has its place. But to serve its mission a news organization needs to offer facts subjected to journalistic scrutiny and presented even-handedly. I hope his charge helps drive our discussions about news and opinion over the next two weeks.

The brief video below has more of Coleman's thoughts on the subject.

Steve Elliott
Arizona State University

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