Reporting and Opinion Journalism

When we read, watch or listen to the news the first thing we need to know is the facts.
Who? What? When? And Where?  

Cowjumpsovergate

The Report

For instance:

‘A cow jumped over the gate of Buckingham Palace last night giving the guards a fright.’

(OK that isn’t very likely but you have to admit it would make a great news story – especially if there were photos!)

Assuming the story is true, that’s a report.

Simple information.

Nothing to argue about.

A straightforward statement of the known facts.

How and Why?

The other two questions you might want answered are ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ – and maybe, ‘what will that mean for the future?’

These can be a bit trickier.

There might be facts here too:

'The cow had escaped from a London city farm.'

or

‘The owner of the cow had been taking her for a walk.’

But it might be that you can only guess at why something happened:

Queen and cow talking over tea

‘Perhaps the cow fancied a chat with the Queen.’  

The Opinion

Strictly speaking a report should consist only of facts, but in practice news reports often include educated guesses or a thought about where the story might go next.

The important thing is that it is clear what is fact and what isn’t.

If there is quite a lot that isn’t fact,then this isn’t a report – it’s opinion.

Opinion is important

Opinion is also important to journalism, but it’s different from news. It is telling you what the writer or speaker thinks or believes – and hopefully why. Opinion isn’t very interesting unless it comes with reasons.

An opinion article on the cow story might say:

'City farms should be closed if they can’t keep their cows from escaping.'

or

Cow Protesting

'We should keep the gates of Buckingham Palace open so cows don’t risk life and limb jumping over the gates.'

You might think those are stupid opinions. That’s fine. That’s your opinion and you can write your own article saying what you think (and why).

The slant

Opinion articles often contain facts but they may be carefully selected to support a particular argument. Other facts might be missing.

If I wanted more freedom for cows, I might point out that a single cow is no real danger to the guards (or the Queen).

Guard slipping on shit

If I thought cows belonged only in farmers’ fields I could remind you that cows poo wherever they are, and the guards (and the Queen) might slip on the slime.

If I mention only one of these things, I am choosing my facts to back up my opinion. Each statement alone is true, but it isn’t the whole truth.

So whether we are reading, listening, watching – or indeed, writing – we need to know what kind of journalism we are dealing with.

Is it factual news reporting, or is it one of many possible points of view?

Write to us and tell us what you think about this article.

Juliet Rix

Juliet Rix is an award-winning journalist, editor, broadcaster and author whose work has featured in the Guardian, Telegraph, Times and on BBC Radio amongst others.  

Juliet's most recent book for children is Travels with my Granny, a sensitive introduction to old-age confusion and dementia, through the loving and imaginative relationship between Granny and her grandchild - and their journeys together.

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