On Jan. 24, the Huffington Post was one of several media outlets that collectively laid off around 1,000 employees from their organizations. Buzzfeed, AOL, Yahoo News, and Gannet were also among the companies that participated in the layoffs. As a result, Huffington Post cut its entire opinion section from their organization, letting go all of the writers who wrote for the section.
In a statement to the Washington Examiner, a spokesperson for the company claimed that the Huffington Post chose to eliminate the opinion section to focus more on “areas that have high audience engagement.” However, the Los Angeles Times found that Verizon Communications, the company that owns the Huffington Post, instigated the layoffs in order to “trim expenses” caused by the merging of AOL and Yahoo News, now both owned by Verizon.
Trimming down on expenses is completely understandable, but doing so by cutting the entire opinion section from a media outlet like the Huffington Post is unnecessary. Opinion writing is essential to journalism because it provides a unique perspective on news-related issues that other sections simply cannot. While it may not have the “high audience engagement” that Verizon Communications is looking for, it is still necessary to analyze different views on stories that may not always have the opportunity to be told.
According to the American Press Institute , journalism serves the purpose “as a utility to empower the informed.” Stories curated in the news section of media outlets do this by providing people with the basic facts on given topics. However, opinion uses this information and takes it a step further, questioning it and analyzing the different perspectives surrounding it.
Take the recent Indigenous People’s March confrontation that took place between Covington Catholic High School students and Native American Omaha elder Nathan Phillips for example. TIME reporter Gina Martinez wrote a news story about the Jan. 19 incident, describing how students wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ clothing taunted Phillips as well as other elders during a ceremony for fallen veterans.
Meanwhile, Niigaan Sinclair, a contributor to The Globe and Mail, wrote an opinion piece about the incident from his perspective as a Native American. In his piece, Sinclair went on to condemn the way Native Americans like Phillips are “mocked, belittled, and demeaned” for their culture and who they are as people.
“Indigenous life is a dangerous situation. Period,” wrote Sinclair. “Yet, indigenous people endure. We sing. We stand our ground.”
Both stories adequately provide knowledge about the event in question. Yet, Sinclair’s opinion piece provides a perspective on the event that Martinez simply cannot. Being a part of the Native American community himself, Sinclair’s views on the event open up an informative dialogue about the mistreatment of Native Americans by colonizers and how such mistreatment influences events like the one that occurred at the Indigenous People’s March.
While Martinez effectively does her job as a journalist by communicating the basic facts about the event through her news story, Sinclair’s opinion piece provides a new way of thinking about the event to readers who may not share his cultural insight as a Native American. By sharing his own personal views surrounding the confrontation, he shares knowledge rooted in human experience and empathy.
Yes, opinion writing may not be the top audience-engager that most people turn to when wanting to gain insight about the news. By looking at this factor alone, it could be understandable why Verizon Communications and the Huffington Post would think to cut the opinion section first as a means of fixing financial problems. But by doing so, they fail to see the impact opinion writing has on the sharing of current events.
Writing for an opinion section is not just about sharing one’s opinion because they think it is the only way of thinking. Rather, it is about acknowledging the different lenses through which one can choose to view the news and how it impacts them. Opinion sections generate stories with which the public can gain a new perspective. By sharing such perspectives, they become as essential to journalism as any other form of media.