The New York Times opinion editor James Bennet resigned recently after the paper published a controversial opinion essay by Sen. Tom Cotton that advocated using the military to put down protests. The essay sparked outrage among the public as well as among reporters at the paper. Many of those staffers participated in a social media campaign aimed at the paper’s leadership, asking for factual corrections and an editor’s note explaining what was wrong with the essay. Eventually, the staff uprising forced Bennet’s departure.
Cotton’s column was published on the opinion pages — not the news pages. But that’s a distinction often lost on the public, whose criticisms of the decision to run the piece were often directed at the paper as a whole, including its news coverage. All of which raises a longstanding question: What’s the difference between the news and opinion side of a news organization?
It is a tenet of American journalism that reporters working for the news sections of newspapers remain entirely independent of the opinion sections. But the divide between news and opinion is not as clear to many readers as journalists believe that it is.
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