Readers don’t want opinions in the news, but killing all opinions is quite radical

By Dr. Merja Myllylahti

Auckland University of Technology (AUT)

Auckland, New Zealand


It is somewhat paradoxical to write about opinion or opinion pieces as this blog can be understood as one of those. As we live in a world that is full of opinions (if you spend much time on social media, at least), some of us have understandably had enough of opinions.

Recently, a New Zealand business news publisher, the National Business Review (NBR) decided to remove all opinion pieces from the publication. In a LinkedIn post, NBR owner Todd Scott said that, after receiving feedback from subscribers, the company has implemented a new policy meaning that “NO opinion pieces will be published” on NBR, including in-house columns.

The National Business Review is not the only publication that has scaled back or eliminated opinion pieces in recent months.
The National Business Review is not the only publication that has scaled back or eliminated opinion pieces in recent months.

Scott said the publication wants to give its readers “all of the facts so that you can form your own opinions.” The publication will continue to offer business and news analysis, making the distinction between opinions and analysis: Analysis is “here’s what happened.” Opinion is “here’s what I think about what happened.”

The publication is not the only one thinking along these lines. In 2022, it was reported that Gannet Co. had started to shrink its editorial sections, including columns and cartoons, as the company felt opinion pieces were “alienating readers and becoming obsolete.” It appeared editorials and opinion pieces were one of the main reasons for readers cancelling their subscriptions.

Removing or reducing editorial content and opinion pieces is an interesting move, but I wonder to what extent readers’ dissatisfaction relates to the opinionated news content rather than actual opinion pieces.

We know from our research people are frustrated with mixing opinions in news reporting. To exemplify, our study of trust in news in New Zealand shows 73% of New Zealanders don’t trust the news because it is “too opinionated and lacks factual information.” One respondent said, “I do not feel better informed by reading their opinions dressed up as news, and it just makes me upset.”

I wonder whether the readers are able to make a clear distinction between the news, news analysis, and opinion, and if the total removal of opinions and columns is the way to go. Or would better labelling help?

When I poll younger readers in my university classes, it is quite clear they have a hard time differentiating between the news and opinions as they mostly consume news on social media or via social media. On the other hand, research conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin showed readers who consume content on news sites don’t notice labels, and only 13% of those studied noticed an opinion tag attached to the content.

Former CEO of Zetland Jakob Moll argued (yes, in an opinion piece) that opinions “undermine the very reason journalism exists.” He makes the point that, because we have opinions coming from all directions, “maybe disseminating it just isn’t the natural role of news publishers anymore.”

I am not sure I completely agree with that, although journalists’ own opinions should never be allowed to be mixed in factual news reporting. In 2021, The New York Times labelled columns from outside writers as “guest essays” while revamping its op-ed page. Newspaper representatives said that, “a half century ago, Times editors made a bet that readers would appreciate a wider range of opinion. We are making much the same bet.”

They pointed out that, while the world is full of opinions, those “spaces where voices can be heard and respected, where ideas can linger a while, be given serious consideration, interrogated and then flourish or perish” are disappearing.

It is not hard to agree with the sentiment, and I do believe there is a space for well-formulated and considered arguments, debates, and dialogues in the news media.

About Dr. Merja Myllylahti

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