Disconnect between news, editorial teams unhealthy

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U.S. newspapers are impressively “hanging on” despite a sustained onslaught by online media. All the top brands are no doubt feeling the pinch.

Print newspapers have lost nearly 52 per cent of their daily sales volumes, while online channels have registered an exponential growth in reach, almost three-fold in the last six years. But as the news media struggles to weather the storm created by changes in consumer behavior, not to mention sustained attacks by President Donald Trump, some pertinent issues have come up that require urgent deliberations by industry stakeholders.

First, plans to get rid of more copy desks could leave U.S. newsrooms with an increasingly bitter taste in the mouth. It comes with enormous challenges on news quality and editorial consistency. Copy editors are critical gatekeepers upon whom media houses rely to help ensure accuracy, balance and creativity in presentation of news.

Second, the focus is shifting to digital but this should not happen at the expense of traditional media on which millions of consumers still bestow their trust. The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Atlantic and Politico are examples of media that are increasingly going online, but still retaining strong print presence.

Consumers themselves generally agree that print editions are still very much a darling of many. This is why print production should still be strengthened. Third, while the quality of newspapers in the United States is beyond reproach, the other elephant in the room is the alleged disconnect between the news department and the opinion/editorial desk.

While it has generally been argued that the newsroom under the stewardship of the executive editor has no authority to decide what goes into the opinion pages, it is a mockery of procedure and separation of powers.

A publication, opinion pages and news included, goes out under one masthead and it makes little sense arguing that the sections are distinct from one another.  It is tantamount to arguing that opinion editors have a different core mandate away from what the rest of the editors espouse in their roles. So long as everything appears under the same masthead, this separation of powers is only a mirage.

The other contentious issue which could require a review in the future is the culture of newsrooms making political endorsements. Many scholars continue questioning if the role of the mass media should include making substantive political decisions that could dent their credibility.

Endorsements by newspapers do not bode well with fairness. How would an audience expect fairness in political coverage when a newspaper directly takes part in elections by endorsing some candidates? The endorsements may be done in good faith but overall, it is bound to be misinterpreted by those who look up to a newspaper as their trusted information source.

I dare say that the news media in the United States must shun practices that predispose them to conflicts of interest. You do not engage in a practice just because it has been the norm. It’s time to create a synergy between news and editorial sections. Some age-old practices only hurt public interest.