Internet opinions: A double-edged sword

Last month, I asked Kate Riley, editorial page editor of the Seattle Times, whether the internet was destroying opinion journalism. She wrote that her newspaper was adapting to the brave new online world and continuing to provide a forum for her readers to view and debate the issues of the day.

I shared her response with syndicated columnist Froma Harrop, a former president of the Association of Opinion Journalists. Here’s what she had to say:

Is the Internet killing opinion journalism? Not at all. It provides a vast forum for lots more of it. But it’s made the search for high-quality opinion writing more difficult. By “high quality” I mean opinion that adheres to what we regard as journalistic standards. They include a certain loyalty to facts and logic – and transparency. Revealing the writer’s real identity helps readers understand where the opinion is coming from.

So what do you do about a Jofi Joseph, the National Security Council staff member caught tweeting snarky opinions of his superiors under the nom de plume @NatSecWonk. Here was someone in a position to judge the talents of national security leaders, but how could his followers assess his credibility, since he hid behind a shield of anonymity? For all anyone knew, he could have been a college kid in Australia, fantasizing off an issue of the Economist.

As Kate notes, so-called traditional (print) media often put much more online these days than on paper. I see them as ideal providers of online opinion journalism: That old newspaper logo at the top of the website tells reader that the opinions to follow have been curated for strength of argument, quality of writing, etc. The unlimited “page space” on the Internet, meanwhile, allows for greater quantity and variety.

And what may save the civic culture from online chaos is the insistence by the Seattle Times and other reputable news sites to provide safe places for readers to hash out their disagreements without fear of attack by anonymous “trolls” or other online creeps.

In future posts, I’ll share more views about the future of opinion journalism from those in the field.

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