Josh Bergeron: Quick-start guide to reading newspapers
Some features in newspapers are easily understood by longtime readers, but in a world that’s changing rapidly, some items have become unfamiliar to those who read infrequently.
Why, for example, do most items on the opinion page contain attribution to a specific author, but the item we label “Our View” contains no attribution? What does the word editorial mean? And why do some news stories tell you who the article is written by while others simply say “staff reports”?
A version of this column ran in the Post in January 2019, but I think newspapers benefit from continuing to tell readers about the content they’re reading. Think of this like a quick-start guide to reading the Salisbury Post.
Our opinion pages might be a good place to start.
While we publish a single opinion page most days, the Salisbury Post doubles that count on Sunday in an effort to provide readers with additional viewpoints about the world that surrounds us. Readers will find opinion columns, letters to the editor and an editorial on those pages.
Columns, sometimes called op-eds, are fairly simple. Unlike news articles, columns include the opinion of the writer. Reporters occasionally write columns, but they generally do not do so about the topics or events they write news articles about.
Anyone is free to submit an opinion column, but we ask that they are about a local or state topic and stay around or below 700 words.
You’ll find most columns published by the Post on our opinion pages, but we also run them frequently in our Lifestyle section. Those are about topics such as Faith and re not necessarily about a local or state topic.
You can spot an opinion column in print by looking for a photo of the author as well as text that’s flush on the left side of the column and ragged on the right. News articles have text that’s flush to both sides of the column of text.
Letters to the editor are similar to columns in that they express views of the writer, but they are shorter and can be about any topic. At the Post, we set a word cap of 300 for letters and limit writers to one letter per two weeks. Anyone is free to submit a letter, but we give preference to people who live in Salisbury, Rowan County or nearby communities.
Editorials, which appear at the top of the Post’s opinion pages with an “Our View” header are meant to be the opinion of the newspaper rather than an individual. At the Post, it’s almost always written by a single person, but the viewpoint is developed by consulting with senior members of the staff.
As for news, it’s generally understood that the most newsworthy or interesting articles in the print edition that day appear on the front. If an article is above the fold on the front, it’s more important than the ones below. To decide this, we judge the story’s impact on readers of the Post. For example, a story in Cabarrus County might be newsworthy for the Post’s readers, but it’s usually not as important as one that happens in Salisbury or Rowan County — our core coverage area.
Stories that appear in the news or sports pages with the byline of “staff reports” indicate that original reporting was not required to put together the story or that it is shorter than 200 words. Examples include a short crime story or a news release from a local nonprofit.
All reporters at the Post are asked to write general assignment stories, but everyone is assigned to particular “beats” so that they can become subject matter experts, become familiar with the people who work in those areas and vice versa.
Obituaries are one of the most-read features of the newspaper, and the content for these comes from the funeral home handling services in consultation with the family of the deceased. Today, obituaries are on page 5A and 6A. When people of note die, local writers will write longer stories about their lives and talk to people who knew them.
You’ll also find news stories with the tag “(AP)” at the start or Associated Press in the byline. These come from a news wire service that many newspapers subscribe to in order to provide news from outside of their coverage area. When space is tight in the newspaper, we use news wire content to fill space. But when there are major things happening in the country or state, news wire content appears on the front page.
The Post has for years provided an online replica of the printed newspaper in a format known as the “e-edition,” but it has become more important for readers as well as the Post.
With revenue declining sharply because of coronavirus pandemic and business shutdowns, mandatory and otherwise, the Post moved in 2020 to produce three printed newspapers per week and to continue publishing two editions online. We treat the two e-edition-only newspapers as regular editions, with stories you’ll only find there.
For those not familiar with the e-edition, think of it as a similar experience to using a device like an Amazon Kindle: readers flip through a PDF of the print edition like a book.
Unless you’ve specifically opted out, you have access to the e-edition as well as an ad-lite experience on salisburypost.com. While other newspapers have put up a hard paywall for non-subscribers, the Post allows everyone to read stories. There is, however, a better user experience, no pop-up ads, fewer ads in general and no surveys for subscribers.
For questions about your subscription or to use your online access, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For any other questions about content in the Post, email me at email@example.com.
Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post.