06. Commentary

The journalist is not a machine. His temperament, his sensitivity, his education, his beliefs, his convictions influence the way he sees the facts, even when he’s careful to keep his distances. The best way to prove your intellectual honesty to your reader is to avoid genres confusion: never mix facts and opinions. 

Avoid hidden judgments

The most factual stories are not safe from such confusion. A name, a verb, an adjective deliberately (or thoughtlessly) are enough to orient the reader’s opinion towards a particular interpretation.

Writing “General Caesar” or “Activist Caesar” doesn’t hold the same meaning. Saying that Caesar is a general is enunciating an objective fact. Writing that he’s an activist is mixing facts and opinions. Writing that Caesar has landed in Great Britain to “civilize” it is making him sympathetic, writing he’s landed to occupy” Great Britain is making him the villain. Describing Bretons as “barbarians” is sharing Caesars point of view. Showing them as “member of the Resistance” is sharing their opinion.

Word choice is never neutral

Always use the right word. The right word holds no ulterior motive.

Differentiate assumed opinion

A proper journalist works in favor of freedom of speech. He wants it for the others, therefore it’s only natural he expresses his own. Readers have a right to expect the professional newsmaker. There’s only one way to guarantee honest news coverage: separate facts from opinion, right to the layout. Physically so : write two articles, one dedicated to the facts, the other to your opinion. Use different fonts and typographic signs. Highlight the difference in the layout : first the facts, then your opinion. Headline for the facts, a subhead for your opinion.

The form is never neutral

Commentary is a dissertation comparing to the narration of the facts. But all dissertations don’t hold the same impact. The same goes for commentary : it can be comprehensive or critical.

Three types of commentary : 

The opinion piece : it’s short, and can be humoristic, caustic or kind. The shorter it is, the more impact it has : Julius Caesar, landing in Great Britain, said, “I’m no Zorro”. Indeed, he’s much more of an Attila.

The editorial, which is longer, offers a theory or a judgment.
The analytic editorial is a very structured article, its lead is catchy, its last sentence ominous. “Julius Caesar made three mistakes when he landed in Great Britain. First off all, he underestimates the effects of English tea on troops morale. Secondly, he’s overestimating his own abilities : the British are no Gaul. Finally, he’s taking an enormous political risk : by crossing the Channel without notifying the Senate, he gives credit to those who believe he wants to be Alexander the Great. He’ll get himself murdered”.

The emotional editorial gives room for emotions. It states rather than argues : “Julius Caesar is but a barbarian. Let us fight!”

The newspaper and the writer can be held accountable for the editorial.

The editorial is always signed. It’s a matter or transparency and respect. The writer and the newspaper that published the piece are accountable for its content.
If, among the newsroom, two editorial POVs are irreconcilable, nothing prevents the newspaper from publishing both. The reader will appreciate that.

An anonymous editorial always expresses the stand of the newspaper, and therefore the managing team is accountable for it.