Accuracy in Media

Washington Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton expressed his concern about opinion pieces appearing on the front page of the newspaper and called for them to be labeled “news analysis” or “opinion” when appearing on the first two pages of the paper.

Pexton said he found it jarring to see columnists appearing on the front page when he arrived at the Post last year, leading him to ask, “Shouldn’t that page be reserved for important domestic , foreign and local news?” Which it should.

The answer in part to the migration of opinion columns to the front page of the paper, said Pexton, is that the print version of the paper is trying to more resemble the online version, where opinion columns are often the most read articles on the site.

Managing Editor Liz Spayd sees nothing wrong in running columns “by some popular Post voices” on the front page:

We have a collection of outstanding columnists, expert in their fields and eloquent in their writing, and there are occasions when those columns do a more effective job of distilling a subject than a news story can.

Spayd also told Pexton that she has guidelines for what can appear on the front page and that columns that take sides in a political dispute or have a clear ideological bent don’t make the cut.

Of course that is a subjective decision, based on how Spayd views the column or columnists.

While Pexton agrees in general with Spayd’s guidelines, he is also confused as to how they are applied. Pexton points out that while Ezra Klein rejects partisan and ideological labels as attempts by Democrats and Republicans to pigeonhole journalists, he has taken positions on cap and trade and the individual mandate, guest hosted the Rachel Maddow show and used to work at the left-wing American Prospect.

That, to Pexton, seems like it should disqualify him from appearing on the front page. But Spayd apparently has a different view on whether or not Klein is partisan despite the evidence.

Pexton concludes with the following recommendation:

I think that any opinion column appearing on Page A1 should carry an additional label announcing it as news analysis. Columns on Page A2 should also be labeled “opinion” or “news analysis.” Readers deserve the clarity.

They certainly deserve the clarity. But if the Post were to honestly look at the situation, they would likely find that there is really little news and plenty of opinion on their front page. And that’s not something they want to admit.





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