It can be difficult to tell the difference between fact and opinion. And some things we consider true may not be true to all people.

Oscar Wilde on truth

(Illustration by News Decoder)

At News Decoder we are all about fact-based journalism. 

That means that the information in a news story comes from the authors having actually witnessed something happening, or they obtained the information from a documented or verifiable source.

 A fact-based story might also include opinions from experts and from people affected by a problem. Those opinions help put facts into context to get at truth. 

Truth isn’t fact. That’s a difficult concept to understand. It is a fact that 2+1 = 3. It is my opinion that if you bring one extra person on a two-person date, three people will feel like a crowd. It seems like a paradox, but truth can be disputed. For some people it is true that three’s a crowd. For others the more, the merrier. 

But News Decoder also publishes stories that are more opinion-based than fact-based. That’s because sometimes the fact about something is already well-known — Russia invaded Ukraine, the climate is changing — but all kinds of things can happen in the future and we want to know someone’s thoughts on that.

Or an issue, like the benefits vs. dangers of social media, are so complicated, that people disagree about it and it is useful to get the thoughts of someone knowledgeable about the issue. Sometimes we can learn important lessons from other people’s experiences.

When opinions matter

There are two basic types of opinion-based stories. One is known as an op-ed, for opinion/editorial. These are columns, typically published by news organizations, that advocate for something: making cigarettes illegal, perhaps, or limiting or expanding immigration. 

At News Decoder we rarely publish op-ed articles because we are an educational news organization, not an advocacy group.

There are some issues we are passionate about however, such as freedom of the press, and you might see some articles advocating that creep onto our pages. 

The other type of opinion-based story is called a “personal reflections” piece that focuses on someone’s personal lived experience. We published an article by a high school student about her experience delivering school supplies to needy children in China, because it explores the concept of inequity in education.

An essay by a student from Ghana that won a prize in our storytelling contest was about the idea of what it means to be a winner.

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We value multiple perspectives

We also published a story by one of our correspondents about his experience trying to get French citizenship, because it offered an interesting perspective about what it means to be considered a foreigner. 

So what makes one non-fact based story more publishable by News Decoder than another? In an advocacy article, the writer is trying to convince readers of an idea. This is the concept of pushing an idea.

Personal reflection stories, on the other hand, work through a person’s own thoughts and experiences and allow readers or listeners to come to their own conclusions.

In the first, the author pushes one perspective. In the other, the author allows for multiple perspectives. The best personal reflection stories address multiple perspectives in the article itself. 

What’s your opinion on that? 

Three questions to consider:

  1. What is the difference between fact and opinion?
  2. How does opinion veer into advocacy?
  3. Can you think of something that you consider true that could be disputed?

Marcy Burstiner is the educational news director for News Decoder. She is a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School and professor emeritus of journalism and mass communication at the California Polytechnic University, Humboldt in California. She is the author of the book Investigative Reporting: From premise to publication.

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