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Around the Valley: Significant difference between news, opinion

Also: What 'misinformation' is and isn't
Gina Channell Wilcox.

After reading emails forwarded to me recently, it is clear some people don't understand -- or choose not to understand -- the difference between a news report and an opinion piece, or what "misinformation" is.

Editorials, columns and blogs are opinion pieces, and there is a significant difference between an opinion piece and a news article.

A news article, like what our reporters produce, describes what is objectively observable, like something that is said or an action that is taken. It is balanced and includes quotes and ideas from all sides and perspectives.

An editorial is the opinion of the news organization's editorial board and a column or blog reflects the author's opinion. It is subjective. An opinion, by its very nature, is a bias.

However, this type of writing might be better described as analysis because it not only explains what happened, but the writers use facts and background to interpret events and support their opinion.

A recent editorial was referred to by someone as a "political hit piece". We have no desire or reason (or time) to write political hit pieces simply to vilify or disparage anyone.

It is our responsibility, though, to make the public aware of what is happening in their local government, school district, county, etc., while they are busy with work and family, as well as hold elected and public officials accountable.

When our editorial board believes elected officials are doing what is in the best interest of the public, we support them. When we believe elected officials are not doing what is in the best interest of the public, we are duty bound to speak up.

It is also our responsibility as journalists to present factual information -- regardless of whether it is part of an opinion/analysis or news report.

The term "misinformation" is tossed around too often and incorrectly used in many cases. Misinformation, in terms of journalism, is a factual error. A fact is something concrete such as a date, a dollar amount or age. It can also be a statement of something that is known and proven to be true, such as the earth is round or dogs are mammals.

As an example, take this statement: The Chicago Cubs joined the National League as a charter member in 1876. The Cubs are the best team in American professional baseball.

The year the Cubs joined the National League is a fact. Saying the team is the best in professional baseball in an opinion.

Journalists consider facts and draw conclusions to explain their views. In other words, they present the analysis. The opinion about the Cubs could be supported by the facts that the Cubs won the 2016 World Series and took two of three games in the recent series with the San Francisco Giants.

Factual accuracy is very important to us because it directly impacts our credibility.

When there is a factual error, it should be immediately communicated to our staff so it can be corrected. We are not too proud to admit we make mistakes.

However, out of transparency and integrity, we subscribe to the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics edict that states "Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly."

One thing to watch for is the twisting of facts or details, otherwise known as "spin". One spin technique is telling the truth, but not the whole truth, like sharing only information that is beneficial to a cause or group. Another way this is done is by cleverly obscuring the whole truth, such as when an individual says a certain project will produce revenue. While that is true, the whole truth is that the project will never make a profit.

When combined with "confirmation bias", the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs, spin is a very effective way to skirt around the truth.

Confirmation bias is why two people can read the same report and come away with completely different interpretations. Because some seek out information to support their beliefs and ignore contradictory evidence, there can be no discussion, which causes misjudgment, conflict and polarization.

Accurate, clear and complete information, honesty and transparency are imperative to healthy communities. We'll continue seeking and reporting the truth and supporting our opinions with facts.

Editor's note: Gina Channell Wilcox has been the president and publisher of Embarcadero Media Group's East Bay division since 2006. Her "Around the Valley" column runs periodically in the Pleasanton Weekly.


Gina Channell Wilcox

About the Author: Gina Channell Wilcox

Gina Channell Wilcox is the president and publisher of Embarcadero Media's East Bay division. She has earned several state and national journalism awards, including for investigative journalism and in-depth reporting.
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