Recently, a number of news media outlets have announced the expansion of their opinion section offerings, even creating new ones all together, to accompany its current news coverage. The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune and The Tennessean, among others, have cited a variety of reasons for why they are further investing in these pages, and all tie back to the common desire to engage and connect with readers.
Expanding the space allotted to community viewpoints further highlights the importance of an engaged readership that feels represented and is encouraged to participate. In these instances, a publication’s readers are no longer simply “consumers” – they become active participants in representing the news that matters to them. It represents a shift in publishers’ strategy from a few years ago, when many were cutting opinion pages and editorial content in favor of online conversations and other forms of content, according to Pew research in 2013.
A recent report by American Press Institute emphasizes the importance of this collaboration between publishers and their audiences. The key focus of the study, which features feedback and insight from 25 news leaders and innovators, emphasizes how a strong relationship between journalists and their consumers can help to produce strong, engaging content that is of value to readers: “Collaboration is not about what your audience can do for you, but what you can do with your audience.”
The Chicago Tribune, which expanded its opinion page offerings last year, incorporates “opinion leadership” as part of its mission to provide a variety of viewpoints while creating a space where readers can discuss these issues. As part of this section, The Tribune welcomes content from its community and features the voices of the editorial board, columnists and guest commentators. The publication explains how it also shares with readers an important common denominator – the city of Chicago – and works to both represent the community and hearing what it has to say. Through this, there is a clear connection not only between the publication and the city, but to the individuals that make the city the place that it is.
Similarly, in February The Tennessean launched Insight, a Sunday print opinion and analysis section, and announced the expansion of the Saturday opinion section to feature a full page of letters weekly.
“Among the most profound responsibilities of any news organization is its role in facilitating community discussion,” said Tennessean Vice President of News and Executive Editor Michael Anastasi in the announcement. “If we don’t ensure all viewpoints are heard, who will? It’s a mission we hold dear.”
Opinion sections work to further the conversation while inviting others to join in, having a scope and an impact that can be felt in all news communities. The Washington Post recently announced its Global Opinions section, providing insight and commentary to showcase a “variety of perspectives” on global issues such as war and peace, democracy and dictatorship and trade, to capture different viewpoints around the world. Through this addition, the news outlet hopes to reach Europe’s influential readers while laying the foundation for how to do something similar in other places.
Ultimately, the opinion pages not only give a voice to the contributing author – who may represent the sentiments of many in that news community – but welcomes others to join in on the conversation while providing a space in which their thoughts are heard and valued. It provides the news audience with the opportunity to hear and be heard, further strengthening the relationship they have with their news.
Members of the News/Media Alliance staff have contributed to this post.