Updates to the opinion section

Monitor staff
Published: 3/7/2022 7:00:46 AM

In our inaugural community impact report last year, we told you about the Monitor’s acceptance into the Road to Pluralism, an initiative from Trusting News to help journalists build trust in a polarized world.

As part of the project, we signed on to do an audit of our opinion content to find out how we can do a better job of labeling and explaining it to give readers a clearer experience and understanding of what they’re reading.

That audit is finished and we’ve met with other newsrooms in the Pluralism Network, along with the Trusting News team, to talk about improvements the Monitor can make. Here’s what we learned and here’s what we plan to change.

A look at labels

Perhaps the biggest thing pointed out to us is that the labels we use for our opinion content might not be the clearest.

Sure, we talk about what a My Turn is in our opinion policy, and our longtime readers are familiar with the term, but what about someone who sees a post on social media or clicks on our website for the first time? Do they know they’re reading a community-submitted essay and not a reported news story from Monitor staff?

So we decided to change how we label My Turns online. Instead of saying ‘My Turn’ in front of the headline, you’ll see the word ‘Opinion.’

When you’re reading opinion content in print or in our e-edition, My Turns appear on the opinion pages, right under the big header, so it’s easier to differentiate. But that’s harder to do online when folks are coming to our content from different places.

(One difference to note here is 3-Minute Civics, a series that runs in the opinion section every other week that has its own unique title in the headline. We’re going to tackle that a bit differently. Read more below).

Whose opinions are they?

Last year, we added a note to the bottom of all of the My Turns published on our website to let readers know that what they’re reading is an opinion essay submitted to the Monitor by a member of the community. Here’s what it said:

My Turns are opinion-based essays submitted by Monitor readers and members of the community. The views expressed in My Turns are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Concord Monitor and its staff. Learn more about the Monitor’s opinion policy here.

Now, we’re going to take that note one step farther. Feedback from the audit told us that explicitly explaining what relationship opinion coverage has to news coverage at the Monitor is very important to building trust, especially because it might not always be obvious.

Do the two sections influence each other? Do people who write opinion essays also cover the news? Fortunately, that’s an easy one for us to answer — no and no.

The Monitor’s opinion section features content submitted by readers and members of the community, selected by an editor to be published. What appears in the section is what is sent to the Monitor for consideration, and we encourage all readers to share.

The goal of the section is to provide a platform for people to share a range of perspectives and ideas. What’s on the community’s mind is reflected in what you see in the section, so sometimes you’ll see themes in the My Turns and Letters to the Editor.

The only exception, meaning the only opinion content that does not come from our community of readers, is the national commentary seen in our print edition. Those are opinion essays selected by an editor from one of three national wire services: Associated Press, Washington Post or Tribune News Service.

My Turn writers and Letter to the Editor writers are not paid and are not Monitor staff. We’ve updated the note you see at the bottom of online My Turns and our opinion policy to clearly state that content in the opinion page stands completely separate from the Monitor’s news coverage.

You’ll notice a few changes in how the opinion section looks in our print edition too. At the top of every My Turn, you’ll see the author’s name. In print, there will be a box that lets you know a bit more about the person sharing their opinion. This will be a change in the online version as well. The author’s information will be right below their name at the top of the My Turn. An attribution with information about the writer, either where they live or their professional affiliations or credentials, has always been included at the bottom of every My Turn. We’re just making it easier to find.

Opinion? Advice? Column?

After the content audit was complete, the participating newsrooms had a lot of back and forth discussion on what defines an “opinion” column. Is it anything written in the first person? Someone sharing their ideas and beliefs? Both of those, but only if it’s about a “newsy” issue? And can one word be used to label them all to help readers differentiate?

The Monitor is fortunate to have feature columns written by experts in our communities who share their experience, advice, insight and more. Those don’t fall within the opinion section, but they should still be labeled and noted as something different than the news content reported by our staff.

So, we’re going to add more descriptions to those non-staff columns and be consistent in how we label them online (you’ll see the name of the column right in the headline).

For example, here’s what the 3-Minute Civics description might read:

3-Minute Civics is a column that explores and examines concepts to help readers understand and participate in state and national political conversation. It runs every other week in the Sunday Forum. The authors of this column are not members of the Monitor’s staff.

Law in the Marketplace, Vintage Views, Carole’s Corner, Take Me Outside and Henry Homeyer are feature columns that are also a part of this list. The description added to each column posted online will let readers know a bit more about the author, what they’re writing about, and what their relationship is to the Monitor.

We know our regular readers are familiar with the writers and their work, but we want to be consistent and clear. We’re working on including all of these descriptions online in a way that’s informative, easy to find, but also doesn’t impact the reader experience too heavily.

Questions? Email aginwala@cmonitor.com

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