Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Difference Between A Writer and A Columnist

This may be preaching to the choir since most of the people who read this blog are in the writing industry, but I have to say it amazes me the amount of people who don't know or understand the difference between an editorial and an article.

Non-media types often comment to me "that paper is so liberal, didn't you see the editorial by XYZ?" I'll admit that simple comment has the ability to bring forth a deluge of words from me about misconceptions and generalizations about the industry and journalists. Just because an editorial board is liberal, the majority are, doesn't mean the article content is all liberal with a set agenda.

It's simple. The editorial board is allowed to take any stance they want on an issue but that has nothing to do with the article content in the paper. I sat in on many editorial board meetings at a major paper and watched the board members debate what take they would have on a particular issue. (Columnists are much the same, only they aren't caged in by the general feeling/opinion of a board. They get to make up their own opinion and write about it.) This, however, is not the way articles are written. A reporter talks to the sources, reads background information from press releases and other articles and then writes a piece, and if they are a good journalist those pieces are devoid of any opinion on the matter.

So, when people (like this piece) try to call the bluff on columnists like Nicholas Kristof for his column on boycotting Bing; it just gets me mad. He's a columnist. He's supposed to call for action and present his personal opinion. That's what the NYT pays him for. They don't pay him to write neutral articles. Plus anyone looking at this column can see the bold OPINION title sitting at the top of the page, just in case.

Last thing I'll say about this issue... If you are a reader of Kristof's column you'll know that he generally writes about world issues and focuses a lot on injustices. The Bing piece fits perfectly into his normal content.

What do you think? Is he overstepping his columnist position by calling for readers not to use Bing?

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