Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

“Readers see articles posted on social media or shared by friends via email or messaging apps. It needs to be immediately obvious to the reader whether that content is news or opinion, and that’s something the industry is sorely failing at. “

No marketing slogan will make readers believe that journalism is unbiased, accurate, and real until we get serious about helping them navigate our different types of coverage. 2018 may not be the year we solve the opinion vs. news challenge, but it will be the year we will take it seriously and dedicate resources to remedying it.

Before the internet, the opinion section was just that: its own section. We used changes in print design to signal to readers that this content was different: ragged-right alignment, italicized headlines, columnist headshots. These standards were okay because they were in the context of being on a separate page clearly labeled as opinion.

Most readers today find our stories by directly visiting article pages, not by navigating to a specific section front. They see articles posted on social media or shared by friends via email or messaging apps. It needs to be immediately obvious to the reader whether that content is news or opinion, and that’s something the industry is sorely failing at.

The Wall Street Journal has a section called Review, where we invite people to share their ideas, but it’s not clearly marked as opinion, and you don’t know the author doesn’t work for the Journal until the very end. The Kansas City Star, a McClatchy paper, doesn’t have any labeling at all on their opinion pieces.

More news organizations are adding “Opinion” to headlines and social media share messaging. That’s a good start, and it can be especially useful if you are working within the constraints of your content management system.

But too often, the standard solution is to throw a label on the top of the story and feel good that we’ve done our part. The implication is that if the reader misunderstands, it’s their fault. Our readers aren’t stupid and deserve far more respect than we’ve been giving them.

Labels aren’t helpful when we have a slew of terms we use whose meanings are misunderstood frequently: columns, analysis, editorial, opinion, commentary, essay, viewpoint, perspective. These terms represent less of a black-and-white situation and more of a spectrum of reported news to first-person opinion. It’s no wonder readers are commonly confused and aren’t sure if they can trust what they read.

This is a design challenge. Throwing a small label on an article page busy with annoying ads, popups asking you to sign up for a newsletter, and breaking-news banners isn’t sufficient. It’s our job to solve it in a meaningful way that goes beyond tweetstorms that don’t reach all of our readers. Many news organizations are still using labels that denote the section the piece belongs to, but it’s more useful to readers to denote news vs. opinion rather than entertainment or science — especially if the section name means more to the journalists than it does the readers.

There have been positive strides in this initiative. The Washington Post labels stories that aren’t news. I like this approach rather than labeling all stories because it makes the non-news stories stand out and provides much-needed white space.

Mic takes it a step further and explains what their terms mean on the article page.

News organizations must take this challenge seriously and work with design and product teams to establish guidelines that help differentiate content. Here are the questions we should think about in 2018:

  • What terms do we use across our site to denote non-news stories?
  • Are these terms consistently used across the organization?
  • Do our readers know what these terms mean?
  • How will we communicate to readers what these terms mean to us?
  • What labeling can we use to let readers know if this story is news or opinion?
  • How can we implement better design to make it more obvious when we have opinion content?

We must also think of this as an industry-wide problem. The Duke Reporters’ Lab’s research found inconsistent terminology across news organizations trying to distinguish opinion content. Our readers aren’t just reading content from our site, and we need to make it easier for them to understand this concept across their entire news diet. A shared vocabulary would be a good place to start.

Note: Thanks for Brittany Shammas and Jessica Lipscomb for editing.

Rachel Schallom works on newsroom transformation and digital strategy at The Wall Street Journal.

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

Sara M. Watson   Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Burt Herman   Things get real

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Jim Moroney   Newspapers have to be good enough for readers to pay for

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The Snapchat scenario and the risk of more closed platforms

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

Marcela Donini and Thiago Herdy   Collaboration is the way forward for Brazilian journalism

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

Jesse Holcomb   Information disorder, coming to a congressional district near you

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Millie Tran and Stine Bauer Dahlberg   (Hint: It’s about your brand)

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Tanzina Vega   It’s time for media companies to #PassTheMic

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Julia B. Chan   Looking for loyalty in all the right places

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

Paul Ford   Go global

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

L. Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Jake Levine   The return to now

Susie Banikarim   R.I.P. Pivot to Video (2017–2017)

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Eric Ulken   The year local publishers get smart(er) about change

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Errin Haines   At the ballot, it’s time to count black women

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Aron Pilhofer   We can’t leave the business to the business side any more

Dan Shanoff   You down with OTT? (Yeah, DTC)

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Alan Soon   The rise of start of psychographic, micro-targeted media

Richard J. Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Helen Havlak   Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration