OPINION: An article, column, editorial and letter to the editor are not interchangeable terms in journalism
Since my time here at Central Michigan Life, there's always been a bit of contention between what we publish and how our readers reflect on what they read.
In simpler terms: sometimes, readers confuse a column as being the voice of the entire editorial staff. Sometimes people look at a letter to the editor and insist we must have had someone write it on our behalf. Sometimes, people just plain old don't agree with facts presented in an article.
That last one? I can't really help you out on. Facts are facts.
But opinion columns, while they fall under the same umbrella of opinion writing as editorials do, they are not editorials.
A recent example of confusing the two that had unfortunate consequences: when Detroit country-rock artist Kid Rock denied the Detroit Free Press credentials to cover his show at Little Caesars Arena (which was within his right).
The reason? Rock's publicist Kirt Webster told the paper via phone: "You guys wrote a f****ed up story and allowed it to be published. You want a quote, there it is."
They didn't run a story.
They ran an opinion column by Free Press Editorial Page Editor Stephen Henderson who questioned the decision to open a new stadium with an artist whose past is heavily associated with use of the Confederate Flag.
Knowing the ins and outs of newspaper jargon — column, editorial, letter to the editor — is important.
Column: These are written by columnists. They do not represent the view of the newspaper or news outlet, but the view of one specific person.
In our case, these can be anyone on campus -- student, staff or faculty -- and reflect the personal view of the writer. You do not have to work for us to submit a column. You simply have to have some current tie to this campus and let us take a picture of you to run alongside your work.
Columns are fact checked for accuracy: like if they're writing about their personal views on hockey and they spell Detroit Red Wings as "Detroit Red Wing."
Outside of a little editing, a column is all in the hands of the columnists. Someone penning in a column does not mean a news source endorses or opposes whatever is printed. It is simply there for readers to take in and to spark conversation among those who peruse our media company.
Editorial: Things marked editorial are the opinion of CM Life. While the content and way the editorial is written comes down to a select few in the news room, this piece serves as the institutional voice of the media company. Or for MLive. Or the New York Times.
Editorials are also opinions. They are the opinion of the whole. Similar to columns, they're not facts — though we can pepper facts into them to help bolster our point. But at the end of the day, when we write an editorial that says "Go to the Powwow on campus to support our actual Chippewa community" or "We encourage student protesting on campus as a demonstration of their First Amendment rights" those statements are how we as an organization feel. Not everyone who works for CM Life may agree with an editorial. Not everyone gets a vote — just the Opinion Editor, Managing Editor, and Editor in Chief.
Letter to the editor: These are letters we get from people like you, readers who have something to say. Unlike columns, letters to the editor can be written by anyone and do not have to come from people currently tied to campus.
Again, we do edit these for grammar and clarity. We edit for vulgarity. But these words we publish do not come from us or anyone at our newspaper. They might reflect the views of some on staff, but most certainly not all.
Article: These — to the best of our ability — are 100 percent fact. These are your news stories, your sports stories and your features. These are the stories you show to your friends to make a point about how many parking passes CMU has sold this semester compared to last or to highlight the grand reopening of the oldest building on the university's campus.
These are the backbone of the news industry. These are what we write, or try to, every day. This is what you look for and should think of when you hear the word "news." These are not opinions.
The next time you question the integrity of a media source, I beg you to keep this in mind — what you're reading might not even be an article at all, just someone's opinion. And that matters.