The Chicago Tribune is making a move to separate its news reporting and opinion columns in its print edition, and it’s causing a strong reaction among readers.
This week, the paper announced it would move columnists to a dedicated section away from news articles. That includes the popular — and often controversial — page two column by John Kass, which will now be moved to the opinion section.
The changes come as the line between opinion writing and news reporting in print, social media and on cable news has grown increasingly blurry.
“It’s a good first step,” said Charles Whitaker, dean of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. “For decades, I don’t think people have really distinguished between opinion and news … so the more that we can create signposts that help make that distinction clear for the reader, I think the better off we’ll be.”
Chicago Tribune Editor-in-Chief Colin McMahon says the changes come after years of similar practices on the paper’s website.
“On the online side we’ve made several changes to call out what is opinion content, we’ve added taglines … we’ve grouped columns and grouped commentary pieces in one place on the homepage,” McMahon said. “We haven’t done that as much in print … so we decided this week … we would replicate what we do online.”
The move was announced just days after a recent column by Kass was widely criticized as being anti-Semitic. Among those who spoke out were members of the Chicago Tribune Guild.
McMahon says the changes were not in response to any one column or columnist, but that the move has been in the works for several months. He also noted that all of the paper’s commentators will be impacted — not just Kass.
“You can’t do it to just some writers but not other writers, that’s the whole point of this. You have to do it with everybody so it’s very clear what is news coverage and what is opinion,” McMahon said.
Whitaker says the onus of increasing media literacy, and highlighting the difference between pundits and reporters, should fall on news organizations themselves.
“It’s a problem of our own making, because I don’t think we’ve been particularly transparent in helping people make that distinction,” he said. “We’ve had these sort of geographic signs that help people understand these are the op-ed pages, these are the news pages but again, regular consumers don’t pay attention to that as closely as we think they would or should.”