Editorials blogs and anonymity

Written By: - Date published: 9:17 am, August 14th, 2009 - 25 comments
Categories: blogs, Media - Tags:

journalist.jpgWhat is the difference between a newspaper editorial and a post on a popular political blog?

I was pondering this question because I was struck recently by the difference in quality in a couple of recent Herald editorials. This one was an utter disgrace, cheering on Paula Bennett for (as seems almost certain) breaking the law. On the other hand this one is very good, stressing the need for action on climate change and (timidly) trying to give our pathetic government a hurry up on this vital issue.

I’ll bet you a dollar that those two editorials were written by different people, but we don’t know, because they are anonymous. I obviously in favour of protecting one’s real world identity (makes sense in this world where there are plenty of crazies about, and where apparently anyone can be Bennetted with impunity). But I have been convinced that opinion pieces should be at least pseudonymous (signed with a consistent handle / “pen name”) so that an impression of an author’s work as whole can be established. Anonymous Herald editorials don’t even give us that, which is particularly interesting given the way that old media likes to occasionally lash out at the supposed inadequacies of blogs.

There’s a real double standard here. For example, I was recently contacted (via The Standard) by a newspaper editor wanting to use one of my recent posts in a regular feature about blogs. The deal fell through (as we like to say in showbiz) because the editor required a “real name” to sign the post, and I choose to remain pseudonymous. But that same paper regularly publishes anonymous editorials. Hmmmmm.

Well anyway, back to the question I started with. What is the difference between a newspaper editorial and a post on a popular political blog?
— r0b

25 comments on “Editorials blogs and anonymity”

  1. sausage fingers 1

    anyone can be Bennetted with impunity

    Round my way, that is called getting “Erin Leighed”.

    Seems this living under the jack booted heel is not so new.

    • IrishBill 1.1

      That’s it? That’s the best trolling you can do? What a loser. Make one more comment this off-topic again and I’ll ban you for life.

      The standard of troll we’re getting here really has been falling lately.

      • sausage fingers 1.1.1

        Hmmm. Jack booted heel indeed.

        I am not certain how exactly my comment is off topic. While it does not address the main point of the post, it directly addresses a specific point made by the poster.

        How is this going to work: if r0b writes a post about elephants but, in passing, mentions zebras, we all have to leave the zebras alone?

        Are you really so precious?

        If so, do not worry, I won’t be back.

        • IrishBill

          Not all lefties are liberals. And don’t try to litigate details, you’ve offered nothing of any value to any debate I’ve seen you enter here. Don’t worry about coming back if you don’t want to. You won’t be missed by anyone.

  2. The Voice of Reason 2

    Newspaper editorials are not signed, unless there is a specific reason to do so (potential conflict of interest etc). As the name suggests, they are ‘from the editor’, and supposed to reflect the views of the editor specifically or the title generally. So, in a sense, they are not anonymous at all.

    At the larger papers, it will be the deputy editor or a senior journalist who will be the regular writer, with others chipping in on occasion. In the smaller circulation papers, its likely to actually be the editor, given that Fairfax and APN don’t see the need for experienced journos or subbies in the provinces anymore.

    The reality in the international media is that editorials now reflect the business or political leanings of the owners, even though editorial independance is nominally still retained. The recent court case in England where pornographer and Daily Star and Daily Express owner Richard Desmond lost heavily in a dispute over his influence over the stories written in his titles about a business rival is worth having a gander if you want to know how the lines are now blurred.

    • Pascal's bookie 2.1

      In NZ a lot of the provincials share editorials, in a similar manner to how the NZPA used to work. Often they’ll state that a given Ed is originally from the Daily News or wherever, but not always.

      Also, and too, a lot of the little MP columns in the community papers, run over the picture of the local MP and signed as such, share a remarkable amount of Exactly-the-sameness with each other.

      • The Voice of Reason 2.1.1

        Do the tory columns all read as if they’re written by Tim Ellis?

      • BLiP 2.1.2

        Yes, the increasing uniformity of so-called Editorials is a source of concern. Noam Chomsky – and others – have made mention of an apparent “institutional filter” which allows the MSM to criticise government policy but within narrow bounds as set by the Rupert Murdochs of the world.

        Did anyone else notice that three of the four major New Zealand dailies acted as cheerleaders for Basher Bennett – the OTD being the lone voice of moderation at the time. Whether this tiny example is indicative of the papers supporting National Inc or simply pandering to the red mist of its readers, I’m not sure. Kiwipolitico has an interesting post on media bias for a glimpse at the local scene, but reaches no conclusion either. It seems there just isn’t enough reliable data.

        There is sufficient data/doubt, I believe, to ensure that the MSM is not the only source of your information when deciding finally what to think, or do, or say.

        As an aside, its not so long ago that the editorials in The Listener used to be signed. Since the policy was changed, the editorials have, like the rest of the magazine, slowly gone downhill as that once outstanding publication has degraded into just another rag chasing the dollar, resembling more and more its Womans Weekly stablemate; at the rate The Listener is going with its “disease of the week” and “lifestyle sections” it won’t be long before the editorials will be interchangeable. As for the monthlies, their editorials are usually signed, but seem mainly to be bland extended vesions of the contents page rather than a strident statement of opinion. They seem too scared of frightening off advertisers and/or readers to bother with taking a position on anything of any import.

        As to what’s the difference between an MSM editorial and a political-blog post, I can sum that up in three words: zip, zilch, zero.

    • Irascible 2.2

      Strictly speaking an editorial is signed by the editor as it is his /her opinion piece and is demonstration of his / her independence.
      The NZ Herald publishes what are essentially in house Leader Articles which are shared by a pool of writers who maintain the fiction that they represent the voice of the editor.
      I know of very few NZ papers that have enough editorial independence for an editor to sign his / her name to a piece.
      The nearest thing to a true editorial in the Herald is the editorial cartoon which is signed by the artist.
      Ironic isn’t it.

  3. Brickley Paiste 3

    Ideally, there should be no difference. At real newspapers, the Ed Board is a serious unit that shapes the newspaper’s ethos and message. Stories in the rounds are followed for months and there is high news continuity. The editorial board then directs the newspaper’s opinion message on those stories with long arcs.

    The Herald has neither of these things. Its news depth is non-existent. Each news story is sui generis. Every thread is dropped. There are fewer and fewer rounds and fewer and fewer journalists with real contacts and knowledge of public policy.

    As a result, the same is true of its editorial page. I never read them because they usually bear titles like “All Blacks need composure” or “Summer a time for reflection”. They aren’t even opinions but rather just platitudes.

    However, the opinion pieces on a blog like The Standard function more as the editorial page on real newspapers. Stories are followed consistently and commented upon. The opinions in the blog reflect the general tenor of the blog itself.

    Blogs also have something that the newspapers like the Herald do not: competition.

    In NZ we have no national newspaper. The Herald competes against no one. Therefore, it needn’t take a firm position on anything. It isn’t left or right. It’s just a blog.

    Blogs in NZ kind of fill this void. I can read several well written left leaning blogs that take different positions on different things. I can read some well written right wing blogs although fewer of them.

  4. Brickley Paiste 4

    “It’s just a blog.”

    That should say “it’s just a blob”.

    A bad slip of the pen.

    • IrishBill 4.1

      I used to be a big supporter of having rounds but I’ve noticed in rounds where there is one big news generating organisation, such as police, there is a tendency for the journo to be captured by that big player. It’s understandable because if you get off-side with the main producer of copy your job gets a lot harder.

      • Bright Red 4.1.1

        On the other hand, a journo who knows the area they’re writing about is going to produce better material, and isn’t the danger of capture by the loudest voice also very present when journos are often reduced to just stapling together press releases from the different sides of an issue?

        • Daveo

          Bright Red.

          From what I’ve seen in my various roles the danger is that journalists get captured because they’re a) so reliant on the main news source they become co-opted, and b) because frequently they are treated by that news source – wined, dined and quite frequently given free company product.

          I’d tell you some stories, but that’d be giving too much away.

  5. Maynard J 5

    I once read an editoral in the Whanganui News about how much the editor enjoyed going on a hydroslide. I thought it would end with a “this is the type of thing we need in Whanganui”, but no, it was already in Whanganui and that was actually the sum of the sroty. Hydroslides are fun. It was some deeep stuff, but hey, at least he wrote it and put his name to it.

    Just thought I would share.

    I would like to see The Glob That Is The Gisborne Herald comment on this topic though, maybe some views on the quality of the GH’s editorials…

  6. Bearhunter 6

    “isn’t the danger of capture by the loudest voice also very present when journos are often reduced to just stapling together press releases from the different sides of an issue?”

    Or the Bob McCroskie effect as it’s becoming known.

    I used to write editorials for a provincial newspaper (until the editor came sprinting back from holidays to relieve me after I once suggested blowing up a large chunk of the lower North Island) and it was always understood by the three of us who wrote them that they were a reflection of the paper’s editorial stance. That is, if I or one of the others wrote one the editor didn’t like, it was spiked and another one was written in its place. But our readers always knew that our editorials were a reflection of the editor’s views, even if couched in language that the editor was incapable of expressing himself.

    • Rex Widerstrom 6.1

      it was always understood by the three of us who wrote them that they were a reflection of the paper’s editorial stance

      Similarly when I worked at the Dom, there were three regular editorial writers under Geof Bayliss (one of the best editors in the country, or anywhere, IMHO). They were all to the right of Geof politically but wrote to the agreed editorial viewpoint, which I presume they thrashed out between the four of them (or it could have been imposed from above… I was senior, but not senior enough to be privy to thoughts at that heady level).

      When I became an editor I wrestled with the question of signed vs unsigned editorials – especially since, of the titles I edited, two hadn’t ever had editorials, one because I was the inaugural editor and the other because no one could be bothered.

      I concluded that it was just silly to ascribe a viewpoint to an inanimate thing like a newspaper. Besides, when I signed my editorials I could be much more outspoken because when the proprietors went apopleptic I could point out it was clearly marked as my view, not theirs*.

      But if a newspaper is going to pretend it has a view, then advancing one as schizoid as the Herald (for reasons, I suspect, well explained by Brickley Paiste above) then it’s readers are going to be left confused or mocking or both.

      * Tane noted, some months ago, that I seemed to have had an unusually large number of less-than-happy partings of the ways with former employers. Editorial variance from the proprietor’s prejudices is almost guaranteed to result in a suggestion that you might be better suited to another role… but contrary to popular belief my experience is that the smaller and more closely-held the paper, the more meddling is likely to be the proprietor. Murdoch is too busy counting his wealth, whereas the owner whose barber tells him he didn’t like last week’s community news editorial is more likely to react.

  7. Whats the difference???

    About three years at University taking Journalism.

  8. dave 8

    What is the difference between a newspaper editorial and a post on a popular political blog?

    Big difference. One is a reflection of the views of the newspaper (as opposed to an opinion piece) , the other is a post that is reflective of the opinion of the writer. If course if the blog in question has just one writer there’s practically no difference, apart from the fact that people will probably know who that person is,.

    But you knew that, didnt you – or at least you should have.

    • Daveo 8.1

      God you’re a pompous prat Dave, especially for someone whose one claim to journalistic experience is working for Salient.

  9. Bearhunter 9

    “Whats the difference???

    About three years at University taking Journalism.”

    Or, if you’re sensible, about nine months at a polytech taking journalism.

  10. Tigger 10

    I always thought Dave had worked for Watchtower…

    P.S. Dave, your blog intro is a mess…I’m counting at least four grammatical or formatting mistakes or improvements that could be made here…

    This is my blog. I am a former journalist, a current student and media junkie, I write, look after kids, and drinks coffee throughout.Sometimes I blog.Sometimes I twitter. Sometimes I sleep.

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