Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Why opinion journalism matters

(University of Virginia)
(University of Virginia)

Kelly Riordan of The Guardian posed the question, whether or not audiences need a journalist to decode the news. She answered, “I think they still do. … In fact audiences need this more than ever in the Internet age. … Presumably most people are too busy with work and the school run, to conduct their own robust investigations.”

Journalists aim to give voice to the voiceless and expose wrongdoing while remaining unbiased. Some main obligations of a traditional reporter are to tell stories in an impartial and truthful way. This leaves interpretation up to the audience rather than the journalist.

While we typically value these qualities in reporters, deviating from the status quo is also important.

Opinion journalism is a different breed of journalism in which writers are forthcoming about their subjectivity. Journalists are able to interpret and give valuable insight on issues, something that some readers prefer.

As a reader, I often prefer opinion journalism, especially when I have no discernible opinion on a newsworthy matter. Classic, news-style journalism obligates me to develop my own opinion on matters, but when I lack a strong position or prior knowledge, I often seek opinion pieces to guide my interpretation.

Personal experiences and opinions also give flavor and significance to classic news stories. While opinion pieces provide me with relevant and factual information, they also provide interpretations that I may have previously been blind to. Whether or not I agree with the writer, I come out of an opinion piece with a new, broadened perspective on a contemporary issue.

Opinion pieces provoke thought in audiences and add context to a newsworthy societal issue. However, traditional news-style journalism often lacks the ability to spark these conversations.

Sharing opinions even has the ability to alter the course of history.

An early form of opinion journalism is “The Federalist Papers,” first published in newspapers in 1787 and 1788. These were a series of opinion essays pushing for ratification of the Constitution. “The Federalist Papers” were written anonymously (though Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison are some known contributors). The Constitution granted the federal government rights that were nonexistent under the Articles of Confederation.

“The Federalist Papers” held merit because of their inclusion of opinions. They did not claim objectivity. Americans needed these essays to guide their thoughts regarding centralization of the government. Without “The Federalist Papers,” the Constitution may not have been ratified.

Opinion journalism also leaves important records for future historians and politicians. “The Federalist Papers,” have also assisted us in deciphering and understanding the purpose of the Constitution.

Journalism that is viewed as subjective is often overlooked as irrelevant or castigated for being biased. While I acknowledge the importance of journalistic ethical standards, I also view opinion journalism as a valuable tool for eliciting change and providing historical record, which is why it should and will continue to thrive.

Brianna Zimmerman is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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