The New York Times: News Blogs and Online Columns
In the integrated newsroom, fundamental Times standards of tone, integrity and fairness are the same online as in print. This goes for blogs as much as it does for news articles, but there are subtle differences that this memo is intended to explore.
There are many different kinds of blogs on our site. Some of them are indistinguishable from news stories. Some have a personal point of view (see below). Others have a breezy, conversational tone, and resemble some of the lighter articles and personal essays of the print paper's feature sections.
What should be avoided in all of them is any hint of racist, sexist or religious bias, or any suggestion of nasty, snide, sarcastic, or condescending tone — “snark.” If something could easily fit in a satirical Web site for young adults, it probably shouldn't go into the news pages of nytimes.com. Our ethics code promises that in all dealings with readers, “civility applies.”
Contractions, colloquialisms and even slang are, generally speaking, more allowable in blogs than in print. But obscenity and vulgarity are not, and of course unverified assertions of fact, blind pejorative quotes, and other lapses in journalistic standards don't ever belong in blogs.
Writers and editors of blogs must also distinguish between personal tone and voice and unqualified personal opinion. That is properly found in Opinion blogs, but in the news pages online and in print, opinion must be qualified.
What does “qualified” mean? Take a look at the definition of “News-Page Column,” from the Readers' Guide [appearing in full further down] to our content that is posted on the Web site but applies to the printed paper as well:
- News-Page Column: A writer's regularly scheduled essay, offering original insight and perspective on the news. The column often has a distinctive point of view and makes a case for it with reporting.
Some blogs resemble news-page or online columns in many respects. They may be written in the first person, for example, and they may have a distinctive point of view.
But the key qualifying phrase here about the “distinctive point of view” or opinion that may be allowable is that the piece “makes a case for it [the point of view] with reporting.” Remember, blogs on the news side of NYTimes.com are not the personal, private blogs of the contributors, but blogs of Times employees, whose reputations depend on readers' trust in their impartiality.
So a blog or news column has to give readers the arguments and factual information that led to the writer's conclusion — enough argument and fact on both or all sides of the issue to enable the reader to decide whether to agree or disagree.
This is a fundamentally different requirement that does not apply to editorials or Op-Ed columns, which “are not intended to give a balanced look at both sides of a debate,” as the Readers' Guide says.
As one newsroom editor who has handled a lot of blog copy has noted, “We should encourage smart analysis — indeed, that's what will provide the most value in many blogs, and the basis on which they compete with other blogs and Web sites devoted to the same topics. Deft writing and editing can usually keep analysis from becoming prescription. And as in print, our headlines on analysis should try to capture the debate rather than taking sides in it. (One recent lapse: 'Amazon Plays Dumb in Sales Tax Debate.')”
Moderating reader comments on blogs involves the same Times ethical and journalistic standards that apply to articles. Our moderators' guidelines say they should not edit unacceptable blog comments to make them acceptable; if the comments contain vulgarity, obscenity, offensive personal attacks, say that somebody “sucks,” or are incoherent, moderators are advised just to chuck them out. We try to encourage commenters to use their real names, and normally must not pick up reader comments for use in news articles without verifying their identity. On rare occasions, pseudonymous quotations by commenters may be used to indicate the tone of Web reaction to a major news development or situation, but all such quotations are inherently anonymous and therefore subject to the rules governing anynomity in news articles — i.e. no pejorative remarks, no unverifiable assertions of fact or motives, etc.
Questions are bound to arise. They can always be discussed with Web editors, who should consult about tough calls with the News Desk and the Standards Editor.
In its daily news pages, The Times presents both straightforward news coverage and other journalistic forms that provide additional perspective on events. These special forms — news analysis articles, columns and others — adhere to standards different from those of the editorial and Op-Ed pages. The news and editorial departments do not coordinate coverage and maintain a strict separation in staff and management.
All articles, columns, editorials and contributions in the newspaper are subject to the same requirements of factual accuracy.
Here are descriptions of the various forms:
IN THE DAILY NEWS SECTIONS
Man or Woman in the News: A portrait of a central figure in a news situation. It is not primarily analytical, but highlights aspects of the subject's background and career that shed light on that figure's role in the current event.
- Reporter's Notebook: A writer's collection of several anecdotes or brief reports, often supplementing coverage of a major news event like a summit meeting or an important trial. The items provide glimpses behind the scenes that flesh out the reader's sense of a major story.
- Memo: A reflective article, often with an informal or conversational tone, offering a look behind the scenes at issues or political developments. The article (with a title like Political Memo, White House Memo or Memo From London) may draw connections among several events, or tell the reader who or what shaped them.
- Journal: A sharply drawn feature article focusing on a place or event (and labeled with the place name, whether foreign, national or regional). A Journal article is closely observed and stylishly written, often light or humorous in tone. It is intended to give the reader a vivid sense of a place and time.
- News Analysis: A close examination of the ramifications of an important news situation. It includes thorough reporting, but also draws heavily on the expertise of the writer. The article helps the reader understand underlying causes or possible consequences of a news event, but does not reflect the writer's personal opinion.
- Appraisal: A broad evaluation, generally by a critic or a specialized writer, of the career and work of a major figure who has died. The article often accompanies the obituary.
- Review: A specialized critic's appraisal of works of creativity — movies, books, restaurants, fashion collections. Unlike other feature writers, critics are expected to render opinions in their areas of expertise.
- News-Page Column: A writer's regularly scheduled essay, offering original insight and perspective on the news. The column often has a distinctive point of view and makes a case for it with reporting. (Columns in the newspaper are displayed with the writer's name and the column's title inset into the text.)
The news sections also present a number of regular feature articles that carry labels indicating the topics — for example, the Saturday Profile in the foreign pages and Market Place in Business Day.
IN THE OPINION PAGES
- Editorial: A sharply written, generally brief article about any issue of public interest. Editorials are written by the editorial board of The Times, which includes the editorial page editor, the deputy and assistant editors, and a group of writers with expertise in a variety of fields. While the writers' opinions are of great importance, the editorials also reflect the longtime core beliefs of the page. Unlike the editors of the news sections, the editorial page editor not only reports to the publisher, but consults with him on the page's positions. Editorials are based on reporting, often original and in-depth, but they are not intended to give a balanced look at both sides of a debate. Rather, they offer clear opinion and distinct positions.
- Editorial Observer: A signed article by a member of the editorial board. These articles have a more distinct personal voice than an editorial. They often reflect personal experiences or observations, and may be written in the first person. These articles are not intended to be policy pronouncements, but do not contradict the board's positions.
- Op-Ed Column: An essay by a columnist on the staff of The Times, reflecting the opinions of the writer on any topic. Columnists are expected to do original reporting. Some travel extensively. Op-Ed columns are edited only for style and usage, not for content. Columnists do not submit their topics for approval, and are free to agree or disagree with editorial positions.
- Op-Ed Contribution: An article by a person not on the staff of The Times, reflecting opinions about a topic on which the author is an expert or has provocative and well-reasoned ideas. These articles, most of which are solicited by the editors, are not intended to reflect the positions of the editorial board. Indeed, the Op-Ed page is seen as a forum to air diverse and challenging viewpoints.