Journalism Jargon: Columns, editorials and articles
Editor’s note: YDR Insider tries to help you, our readers, understand some of the terms you would hear if you were sitting in our newsroom on a regular basis.
Anyone who works for in a newsroom can tell you what the three most misused journalism terms are.
We get phone calls all the time about the columns, editorials and articles we write. No matter what the content of the call is, most callers use the wrong term when discussing what we actually wrote.
So, in hopes of providing some clarity, we’re going explain the differences by showing you three pieces Mike Argento worked on. And let’s be honest, if we could get Argento to understand the differences among these terms, we should be able to help you.
Last week, Argento was asked by an editor to write one of his favorite types of articles – the weather story.
He made a couple of calls, pecked at his keyboard and came up with a story that told readers the news about the weather.
It included these paragraphs:
“You’ve probably heard those dreaded words — chance of snow.
“And yes, there is a slight, very slight, almost infinitesimal chance of snow in York County this weekend.
But it appears that you won’t have to break out the shovels and sleds.
“‘It seems some people have overblown things,’ said AccuWeather meteorologist Mike Pigott.
“AccuWeather has run some 15 computer models to predict the path of a storm that may come up the East Coast this weekend. And most of the models show the storm moving to the east, that we will be spared an early onslaught of winter. In fact, Pigott said, it could work out that York County stays dry.”
Sure, his story has some humor in it – news stories don’t have to be dry – but it did not include Mike’s opinion or prognostications about the weather. He was just telling us what the forecaster (who turned out to be spectacularly wrong) told him. That’s the essence of reporting.
Argento, as you probably know, also writes columns for the York Daily Record/Sunday News.
His columns, though they feature facts, are full of opinion.
Sometimes he writes as if he were a famous politician or celebrity. Sometimes he writes about strange occurrences in the news.
This week he wrote about our love of high-calorie foods.
“There were escalating battles among the nation’s purveyors of food fit for human extinction — burgers that equaled the caloric input of a blue whale, chicken sandwiches with two pieces of chicken serving as the roll and other abominations intended to cause chest pains simply by looking at them.
“Among the latest — and what would have been the worst until a new contender entered the ring — was Denny’s Mac n’ Cheese Big Daddy Patty Melt. Here is how the restaurant chain describes it: ‘A hand-pressed beef patty topped with new creamy Mac ‘n Cheese, melted cheddar cheese and zesty Frisco sauce on grilled potato bread, served with a side of wavy-cut French fries.”
“That’s a burger with macaroni and cheese and whatever “Frisco sauce” is. You can order it with extra cheese for another 69 cents.
“What’s really amusing — at least to me, but then, there’s something wrong with me — is that Denny’s announced the addition of this burger as part of its ‘Let’s Get Cheesy’ menu at about the same time it was touting its ‘Fit Fare’ menu, populated with meals not intended to make your heart just give up and flee your body for Mexico.”
There are several ways we let you know that a piece is a column.
First, we usually put a mug shot of the columnist with the story.
Second, the story has a columnist’s tagline instead of a byline. A
tagline byline says something like “By Mike Argento” with “York Daily Record/Sunday News” underneath it. A columnist’s tagline says something like “Mike Argento is a columnist for the York Daily Record/Sunday News.” It then gives you his contact information.
One other way to figure out whether or not a story is a column is when you see the word “I.”
Only very rarely do writers use first person for stories.
There is one other word that clues you in on whether or not a story is an article, column or editorial.
“We” is more regularly used in editorials than in any other stories.
That’s because the editorial is not a news story or the stance of one writer; it is the stance of the newspaper’s editorial board.
Here is part of an editorial Argento wrote on behalf of the editorial board:
“When the U.S. Postal Service said it would sell the historic downtown post office on South George Street, it promised it would not move until it found a suitable buyer for the landmark building.
“That was excellent news. The post office is an architectural gem, one of the city’s defining structures. That the postal service would not abandon it, leaving it to become a vacant eyesore and a symbol of the city’s declining fortunes, was progress. The postal service also promised to maintain a presence downtown, important to the city’s business community and city residents who rely on the post office for services.”
The piece clearly has some opinion in it – saying a decision was excellent. Like a good column, it has perspective and takes a stance. But, again, while Argento wrote this, this wasn’t necessarily his opinion; it was the editorial board’s.
The board meets regularly to discuss the topics of the day and decide if the paper should take a stance on some issues.
Members of the board then write an editorial – or deputize a staff member, such as Argento – to take the paper’s official stance on the matter.
The interesting thing about editorials is that the writer might not actually support the stance the editorial takes. He or she could have been on the losing side of an argument within the editorial board, but it is that person’s responsibility to write that piece.
Hopefully, we’ve cleared things up a bit. And if you see Argento wandering around York, feel free to test him on the three terms. Just don’t ask him about Penn State’s offense.