We Interrupt This Message
So, I’m reading an opinion piece by Harold Meyerson in the online edition of yesterday’s Washington Post. Meyerson starts by talking about how teachers’ unions get blamed for everything. All of a sudden, in the middle of the text, right after the second paragraph, the piece is interrupted by the following message:
(Watch a video of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee discussing the D.C. Public School system.)Strange, I thought. Then, right after Meyerson gets going again, criticizing “Waiting for Superman” and hailing the Baltimore teachers’ contract as meaningful progress, I am interrupted yet again:
(For more opinions on the trouble with America's education system, read Jo-Ann Armao's "Is the public turning against teacher unions?" and a Post editorial "Education jobs bill is motivated by politics.")Now I am taken aback. I’m reading this piece defending teachers’ unions, and at two separate points, in the middle of the text, the Post inserts links: one to an editorial implying that the education jobs bill is a gift to teachers’ unions; one to a video of Michelle Rhee; and the third a short article by Armao that is fair but has undertones. Opinions within opinions, it seems.
I must confess to not having seen this phenomenon before, so I went back and looked through every single Post opinion over the past week. Out of about 50 authored opinions, only two others had mid-text insertions: one about President Obama’s religion; and the other on campaign finance.
Now, I’m not trying to make a big deal out of this. I know that virtually every online newspaper article offers links to related material, but they are almost always in a sidebar or in a separate section beneath the text. Inserting links to content right into the middle of the text is a somewhat different ballgame. It seems intrusive and, if I may say so, tacky.
Perhaps more importantly, it’s one thing to have a mid-text link saying something like “for more coverage on this topic, see here." It’s quite another to cherry-pick content that may be interpreted as supporting a particular point of view (e.g., a Michelle Rhee video in the middle of an opinion defending teachers’ unions). The entire purpose of the opinions section is to provide opinions. Inserting hand chosen content, even if it’s directly relevant to the topic at hand, into a tiny minority of opinions is not only in poor taste, it also seems a rather poor journalistic practice. It begs two questions: How does the Post choose opinions in which to make these insertions? And how do they choose the specific links from the volumes of potentially-related content?
Then again, this is just my opinion. For an opposing view, see the Washington Post’s editorial page.