National Public Radio announced it is updating how it labels opinion content on its website to make it easier for readers to know what is opinion versus news. A well-known complaint from the public is the trend in journalism that conflates news and opinion.
By more clearly labeling content as news, opinion, analysis and so on, NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen argued NPR will be able to better respond to “a problem in the wider media world, as well: the jumbling of news reporting, analysis and opinion, which is confusing news consumers and helping drive mistrust. That said, Jensen called for NPR to take the labels a step further and ensure both on-air commentary is properly flagged for listeners and that interviewees are clearly identified by any partisan relationships.
Instead of using the label “Commentary,” which NPR decided was “too vague,” NPR will specifically flag any opinion pieces “Opinion” and any reviews “Review” in a “bright blue” font, Jensen explained. NPR also will use “Analysis” for news analysis that doesn’t include opinions or guidance, but rather expertise and analysis.
In addition, NPR will put opinion writers’ bios at the top of the article so readers know from the start who is responsible for the article and what their qualifications are, Jensen wrote. The new labels are effective July 25 and were announced in a July 19 memo. iMediaEthics has written to NPR to ask for a copy of the memo, which was written by interim managing editor for digital news Sara Goo and standards and practices editor Mark Memmott.
Goo and Memmott’s memo said, according to Jensen, that the new labels are to make sure readers understand what is NPR’s reporting versus a guest or writer’s opinion. “We don’t want readers to be confused,” the memo said. “They shouldn’t think that the opinion of one person reflects the opinion of NPR. In fact, we don’t ever want to give the false impression that NPR takes sides on issues.”
The labels are “particularly important,” Jensen argued, because “NPR does not have a separate place for opinion pieces” on its website.