Accuracy in Media

National Public Radio plans to change the way it labels labels opinion content online, according to NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen.

Beginning on July 25, online content currently labeled as “Commentary” will be labeled “Opinion.”

In an internal memo on Thursday, Sara Goo, interim managing editor for digital news, and Mark Memmott, NPR’s standards and practices editor, explained the change this way:

“Often, readers sometimes see a headline and read a teaser, but don’t understand when a piece is part of NPR’s reporting or whether it reflects the personal/professional view of a guest or reviewer. We don’t want readers to be confused. 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.”

Additionally NPR will place the identification of the author of an opinion column at the beginning of the piece instead of the end because “We know most people don’t read to the end,” Goo told Jensen.

Goo said the “Opinion” label will include “anything we publish that provides an expression of one’s personal point of view and advocates a position or a call to action.” She said the change was made┬ábecause “commentary” “was too vague.”

NPR will keep the “analysis” label for pieces that rely on a reporter’s expertise to give context to a story but don’t include a personal opinion or call to action.

Jensen suggested NPR would do well to further explain what “analysis” is since listeners are often confused by these pieces and can “hear them as opinion.” This can lead┬áto the “jumbling of news reporting, analysis and opinion” that she believes is helping drive mistrust of the media.

There is no guarantee NPR will succeed in its efforts to more honestly label its reporting, but it’s a step in the right direction and one that other news organizations should consider if they are truly interested on being fair and balanced.


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