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.

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

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

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

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

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

Richard Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

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

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

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

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

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

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

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

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Juleyka Lantigua   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

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

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

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

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

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

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Jake Levine   The return to now

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

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

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Paul Ford   Go global

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

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

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Burt Herman   Things get real

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

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

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

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

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

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

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

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

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix