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News versus opinion

The appointment of a conservative US blogger, writer and policy analyst as a Reuters columnist [Reuters adds conservative writer to its opinion roster] has prompted a sharp debate about the relationship between news and comment. The recruitment of Reihan Salam was announced last month. He writes a weekly column about politics, business and culture for the Reuters Opinion service.

The news versus opinion discussion... has provoked some impassioned contributions

The news versus opinion discussion, conducted on the professional social network LinkedIn by people who once worked for Reuters, has provoked some impassioned contributions. No other item on The Baron has excited such a response, some of it quite agitated. The reasoning covers many points of view. For readers who are not on LinkedIn the following, drawn from many posts, is a brief summary of points made in the argument: 

  • The appointment is a token move against liberal media bias and towards the goal of objectivity
  • Columnists are allowed to express their opinions in their work, other journalists should not
  • Thomson Reuters’ acquisition of Breakingviews created a distinction inside the organisation between news reporters and columnists
  • The best firewall between news and commentary requires dispensing with the latter and investing in the former. Reuters has chosen to go in the direction of least resistance, piling into the social media game where opinion trumps news.

This is not the first time the relationship between news, in which Reuters’ prized reputation for excellence has been honed over a century and a half of reporting, and opinion, in which Reuters now seeks to broaden its reach and increase its influence through regular contributions by high profile columnists, has been addressed in this space. Readers may agree or disagree about the impact, if any, of one upon the other. What’s important is that people who invested much of their professional lives upholding Reuters’ principles of accuracy, speed and - crucially - freedom from bias but whose voice is no longer heard inside the organisation have a forum in which to express their viewpoint. It demonstrates once more that although their association with Reuters is in the past they remain interested in its present and concerned about its future.

Whether the debate is noticed by those now responsible for Reuters’ editorial direction is another matter. ■