There's been some confusion and debate over our policy of flagging some stories as "OpEd", and I want to try to explain what's been going on behind the scenes.
We clearly have a very vibrant, politically active community here at Netscape, and though it can be very difficult at times, we try to be fair to both sides of that community. We initially began flagging some posts as "OpEd" because stories that were clearly opinion pieces were being voted up the Homepage, and some of our members, accustomed to a traditional, professionally-programmed news portal, asked us to intervene in some way. We figured that since newspapers have a separate section for opinions and editorials, it would only make sense for us to develop a system to demarcate the same kind of content, and still allow Netscape members the freedom to program our pages with their stories, votes and comments.So we requested that our members, when submitting a story that they knew was more opinion than fact, include the phrase "OpEd" in the title, and the Anchors team began appending that phrase to stories based on Netscape member reports.
However, we soon began to notice that many members were requesting that we add "OpEd" to stories that were not editorials - conservatives would report a hard news story about a an anti-Bush statement made by Hillary Clinton, for example, or a liberal member would ask us to add "OpEd" to a news story describing a Bush success. When an Anchor would decline to treat these news stories as editorials, the members who made the reports would often accuse Netscape of political bias. We decided to pull back, and to let stories that were clearly opinion-based stand on their own, and only intervene when there was some ambiguity over whether a story was editorial or fact. This, essentially, brought us to where we were in the beginning: editorial stories with a strong political bias were sitting along side unbiased news stories, with no clear delineation between the two.This is an example
of a post which gave us great difficulty. Keith Olbermann is quickly becoming a hero to the American Left, and as such, conservatives are generally suspicious of his work as a journalist. Though many of the segments he fronts for MSNBC are, indeed, purely opinion based, this was a case where Olbermann was presenting an investigative report. One could question his motives for producing the report on an ideological level, but the report itself is hard news. When this story made our homepage overnight, the Anchor team awoke to many messages and reports, asking us to add an "OpEd" flag to the post. This was not a situation where we felt an "OpEd" flag would have been appropriate; instead, I added Commentary acknowledging the reports and offering some counterpoint.
At Netscape, we want our members to have a great deal of say in how we create and implement the editorial practices that help support the content submitted by our members. We know that when talking politics, it will be impossible to make every member happy, all of the time, but hope that, with your help, we can more often than not get it right. So, I turn the question over to you: how would you have handled a situation like this? How do you think we should handle the "OpEd" issue in the future?