Opinion: The difference between opinion-based content and news

Opinion: The difference between opinion-based content and news
ClarkCountyToday.com Editor Ken Vance offers his thoughts on the difference between opinion-based content and news.

ClarkCountyToday.com Editor Ken Vance encourages readers to appreciate the difference

On occasion, it is appropriate for me to provide you a peek behind the curtain here at ClarkCountyToday.com. This is one of those times.

On Monday, I processed a letter to the editor for publication that offered an area resident’s thoughts on vaccinations. As many of you realize, the topic has been a hot button issue due to the measles epidemic that spread through Clark County earlier this year. Add to that, the legislation passed by the Washington State Legislature addressing parents’ ability to claim a personal or philosophical exemption to vaccinating their school-age children for measles and the passion has reached volatile levels by folks on both sides of the issue.

The letter to the editor that we published this week, was in response to a story we published about the eye-opening number of students in Clark County schools who were out of compliance with the law that went into effect July 28.

As of the writing of this column, there have been 68 comments on the letter to the editor we posted on our Facebook page and the letter has already been viewed more than 2,000 times. It doesn’t surprise me at all that the letter evoked that kind of a response from our readers. 

This isn’t a column about that issue. Personally, I think it would take the wisdom of Solomon to completely figure it out. I wouldn’t want my child to go to school with children who weren’t immunized but I don’t want to see our individual rights as parents taken away. I will leave it at that.

This column is designed to try to help some of you understand the difference between news and opinion-based content and how ClarkCountyToday.com processes each.

Opinion-based content includes columns and editorials such as this, letters to the editor and Op-ed pieces. We clearly label each in as prominent a manner as I can think of. And, in addition to those opinion-based pieces spending a short period of time in our main carousel (at the top of the website), they are appropriately placed in the section of our website clearly marked as “Opinion.’’ If I can think of more ways to label our opinion-based content to help clear the confusion I will.

I formed my philosophy on publishing letters to the editor while working with Marvin Case, the former long-time owner and publisher of The Reflector Newspaper. Marvin was adamant that all voices deserve to be heard, regardless of whether he agreed with them or not. I feel the same way. Essentially, unless the letter contains profanity or a personal attack on someone in the community, it usually gets published. (There are other very rare occasions when I won’t publish a letter but they are few and far between.) I provide a little more latitude when the letter addresses elected or public officials and also when it’s in response to another letter writer, who I believe invites response when they put their opinions and beliefs in the public domain. Also, people occasionally ask me if I fact check letters to the editor. To a large degree I don’t. The claims are those of the letter writer. They deserve to be held accountable for poor information shared in their letter and have their credibility judged appropriately.

This is very important for all to understand. A letter to the editor does not represent or reflect the position of ClarkCountyToday.com, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. It reflects the opinions and beliefs of the author of the letter and he or she alone. And, in addition to that, when I write a column, it doesn’t reflect an editorial position of ClarkCountyToday.com. Most newspapers have an editorial board that produces opinion-based content that represents the position of that news organization. We don’t try to tell you how to think. We leave that completely up to you.

More than one person commented that we (which means I in this case) were irresponsible for publishing this particular letter to the editor. It surprised me that readers, regardless of their opinion on this topic or any other, would ask me to filter the opinions/comments of members of the community based upon my own personal opinion or beliefs or those of anyone else. Throughout my time serving as editor of The Reflector Newspaper and also ClarkCountyToday.com, I’ve been told many times that other news organizations do just that. Well, we don’t.

To wrap up this conversation, I want to share the thoughts of Heidi Wetzler, our administrator here at ClarkCountyToday.com. Heidi has spent her entire career working in the news media. This comment perfectly articulates what I am hoping you take away from this column. She shared them publicly on the Facebook thread that follows this week’s letter to the editor.

“It is shocking how accustomed readers have become to news organizations censoring their content — general news as well as opinion,’’ Wetzler wrote. “This is clearly listed as a ‘Letter to the Editor.’ Anyone can submit such a letter. It takes courage to use your real name and publish your photo. I challenge any of her critics to do the same. A good community news organization should provide a forum for discussing all sorts of issues. It should not be in the business of censoring free speech. A good editor certainly does not need to agree with all opinions published. And mature readers should be able to discuss issues without losing their minds. Many news outlets are doing a major disservice to the journalism industry by offering biased news and limited space for opinion. The unfortunate consequence of a society unable to respect others’ opinions is obvious. And the next step now, to blame the messenger, is stunning.’’

Truer words were never spoken.

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