21 Newspapers as a Source: Types, Sections, and Objectivity

Newspapers as a Source: Types, Sections, and Objectivity

Alys Avalos-Rivera

A newspaper is a publication that is periodically published (daily or weekly) that presents news and informative articles. In the past, newspapers were only published on paper, usually of the cheapest quality possible to make them affordable to the public and profitable for the publisher as well. Nowadays you can still find newspapers in their traditional form (paper based) or online.

Types of newspapers

Newspapers can be classified in different ways depending on their format, the type of news they cover, and their periodicity. One classification scheme divides this type of publications into two large groups: broadsheets and tabloids. Initially this classification was only based on the size of the pages. A tabloid is usually half the size of a broadsheet. However, with time, tabloids became associated with sensationalist news that present biased (or sometimes even false) information written in a style meant to scandalize happenings so as to catch readers’ attention. In contrast, broadsheets are usually considered as serious publications that strive to present news in an objective manner.

A second classification scheme is based on the coverage of the news published in the newspaper. Although most newspapers would usually contain news of the most relevant international and national events, some newspapers have a special focus on either regional or local news. For this reason, these types of newspaper are only sold in a specific town or region. On the other hand, national newspapers cover news of national and international interest and are sold all over a country. The last classification deals with how often the newspaper is published, which could be daily, three times or twice a week (biweekly or triweekly), once a week (weekly), or even once a month (monthly). Those newspapers that are published on a monthly or weekly basis sometimes focus on specialized news such as sports, arts, business, or news of local interest [click here to go back to reliability].

Newspaper sections

The article “Golden handcuffs for teachers won’t solve the staffing crisis in our schools” was published in The Guardian, a well-respected British newspaper. Follow the hotlink provided in the reference entry to visit the article’s webpage. Once you are there, pay attention to the following details:

  • On the left of the article’s title, you will notice a couple of subtitles. One of them says “Teachers Shortage” (orange fonts). The second title simply says “Opinion” (gray fonts).
  • If you follow these links, you will notice that the first subtitle gives you access to other articles on the same topic which were published in the previous months.
  • The “Opinion” link takes you to the section of the same name. What does the word “opinion” mean in this context?
  • How does the information in the “Opinion” section (also called “Editorial” section in other newspapers) differ from the information provided in other sections?

 

In the past, when newspapers were actually just made out of paper, they all had different sections that readers could actually differentiate because they were placed on different pages. These sections were used to present the information classified in categories so that busy readers could only focus on those news they really cared about. For instance, if a reader only wanted to read the sports news, s/he could simply search for the sport page and ignore other sections such as entertainment or classified advertisements. Nowadays, if you want to search for a particular section on an online newspaper you have to look at the hotlinks. These links are usually on a ribbon or link menu placed on one of the margins of the webpage (usually the top or the left margin on Western newspapers).

Knowing the nature of the information that each newspaper section affords is of great importance to evaluate a source taken from a newspaper. The section of “Opinion” on The Guardian’s webpage, for example, is devoted to articles that express the writers’ opinions on a given subject, usually a controversial issue. This means that the journalists do not claim being objective or impartial when they write these pieces. On the contrary, the authors freely present their political views or make value judgement of the situations/events being discussed, which is not usually done in other types of journalism. This does not mean that in the “Opinion” section writers do not present evidence to support their claims. They sometimes but not always do! In most of them, the author(s) voice their point of view and weakly support that without providing adequate evidence.

Furthermore, some of these pieces are not confident enough to bring up alternative viewpoints for the audience to have a complete picture and then decide which side to believe. These types of articles are trying to persuade the audience to adopt a particular point of view. By contrast, other sections may have a very different focus. For instance, the “World news” section may only focus on presenting facts while the “Fashion” section may afford more visual material to describe or promote a new trend. To sum up, be cautious before you decide to cite the content in the “Opinion” section of the source.

As an exercise, you can visit a different online newspaper and browse the news provided on each section. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of this piece? To inform? To persuade? To narrate a real story? To sell a product/service? To give advice?
  • Does/do the author(s) claim something about a specific topic? If yes, how do they support their claims? With logic/facts/statistics/emotional appeals/visual evidence/experts’ opinions? [Click here to go back to Evaluating an Internet Source]

Objectivity

It was mentioned before that broadsheets usually publish news that are written in an objective manner. This means that the writers do their best to represent the facts as close to the reality as possible, without involving their feelings or opinions in the report. If you consider that writers are human beings with feelings and opinions, and that newspapers are a business whose first objective is to make profits, being objective becomes a complex matter. For this reason, we cannot talk about a piece of news that is absolutely objective and a newspaper that is 100% free from bias. In fact, newspapers usually take a particular political stance (position) that somehow determines how the news, especially the editorial or opinion sections, are presented. Some newspapers are said to have a left, center, or right tendency, depending on the type of political views they hold or political parties they favor. A newspaper’s political stance also determines its audience. This means that, for example, a conservative audience would usually favor a conservative type of newspaper.

As a reader, it is important to be aware of the newspaper’s stance and consider it whenever you read your news. A good principle is not to get your news from a single source. This practice will allow you to see the different points of views about a particular event and decide for yourself, instead of simply following other’s opinions. This is especially important if you are considering using newspaper articles as part of your sources for an assignment. Moreover, you should keep this principle in mind when browsing news on other sources different from newspapers, such as TV, radio broadcasts, or online sources such as Google News, or Yahoo News. They all follow a stance and address an audience with a political point of view [Click here to go back to reliability]

As an exercise, you can observe the following statements about the problem of global warming taken from the websites of two famous TV Networks (You can also click on the hotlinks to read the whole articles). Consider the following questions:

  • If you only read the headlines on the Fox News article, what is the idea that you get about the causes of global warming?
  • Is that the same idea that you get once you read the content of the article (pay attention to the words that were bolded for your reading convenience)?
  •  According to the CNN News website, what is causing global warning?
  • Do these two articles agree on the causes of global warming? Why is that?
Early man’s actions caused global warming, study says (Fox News) A new analysis of ice-core climate data, archaeological evidence and ancient pollen samples is being used to suggest farming some 7,000 years ago helped put the brakes on a natural cooling process of the global climate, possibly contributing to the warmer climate seen today.
Your climate change questions answered (CNN News) Nine in 10 of the scientists said global temperatures are rising and 82% said this rise is because of human activities such as burning fossil fuels and putting more heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.

To find out more about the editorial line (political stance) of these two sources (Fox News and CNN News) and the political views of their audiences you may check the following article from Business Insider. However, remember that this is again a source may also have a political stance and may be not absolutely reliable.

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Newspapers as a Source: Types, Sections, and Objectivity by Alys Avalos-Rivera is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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