How Newspapers Work

Editorial Pages

A newspaper publishes its views on current events -- both local and national -- on its editorial page. This is where letters to the editor, political cartoons, and editorials -- unsigned commentary that reflects the collective position of the newspaper's editorial board -- appear. Letters are often among the best-read section of any newspaper, for this is where readers express their opinions. Some newspapers limit letters to a certain number of words – maybe 150 or 300 -- while others publish letters of virtually any length.

Editorials are not news, but rather reasoned opinion based on facts. For example, editorials may criticize the performance of public officials such as the mayor, the police chief or the local school board; conversely, editorials may praise others for their civic contributions. Whatever the topic, newspapers hope their editorials will raise the level of community discourse.


Also under the "editorial" umbrella are the op-ed pieces. Op-ed is a contraction of "opposite the editorial" page (not "opinion editorial," a common misconception) [source: Boston Globe]. Op-eds run on the page opposite the editorial page and often publish opinion articles written by people not employed by the newspaper [source: Boston Globe]. For instance, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by U.S. President Barack Obama in January 2011 that discussed his administration's views on government regulation, and the world learned of actress Angelina Jolie's double mastectomy via an op-ed she wrote for The New York Times in May 2013 [sources: Parramore, Jolie].

The editorial pages are under the direction of an editor outside the news division. Newspaper people call this "separation of church and state," meaning there is a line between news and opinion that must not be crossed. To do so strips a newspaper of its most valuable asset -- credibility. For that reason, editorial-page editors at some large newspapers report to the publisher, who is the chief executive officer of the company, and not to the executive editor. Other newspapers may have their editorial-page editor reporting to the executive editor. Whatever the organizational model, though, neither department can tell the other what to publish in the newspaper.

Which brings us to another insulated department in newspaper publishing: advertising.