We in the news media have a public trust issue. Simply put, people don't trust the news.
Our bifurcated media landscape and the president's use of "Fake News" has contributed to that. There are organizations that have economic incentives in dewing distrust in our media institutions.
But Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post had a great point on Twitter last week. We in the media have long assumed that readers know how we do what we do. I don't know if that's true. I think a lot of people just open the newspaper, go to a website, or open Twitter and Facebook and read "the news" without thinking of the distinctions we in the business take for granted.
With that in mind, here's a primer of basic journalism terms, with a sports angle:
A reporter is a person who is employed by a news organization to gather and report the news. In sports, there are a few types. A beat reporter is one who covers a specific team every day. They are responsible for all the news that happens around a team. A general assignment reporter is not assigned to a specific team but writes stories on whatever's needed that day.
A columnist is a writer who typically writes only opinion pieces (more on this below). A columnist gig is highly sought after. It's typically a highly paid gig at a paper. It's usually given to an experienced journalist (typically, and unfortunately, this is usually an older white dude) as a reward for excellent work as a reporter.
A story is the basic element of journalism. Typically, a story is a reported piece, which means a reporter will interview sources, do some basic research, and write 350-700 words about it. At their core, stories answer the classic "Who What When Where Why How?" questions and follow what is called inverted-pyramid style (the most important facts are first, followed in descending order). A game story is a specific story about a particular game. A news story is about something that the journalist feels is new, noteworthy or important. A feature is a longer story that is about an issue, trend or something beyond the news of the day. A profile is a specific kind of feature that tells an individual's story.
A column is a piece that reflects the writers' opinion. If the basic game story tells you what happened in the game, the column tells you what the writer thinks about the game. A story reports the decision a coach made. A column says "Fire the coach!" The column is NOT the opinion of the news organization. It is the opinion of the individual writer.
Columns and stories are different things. They are not interchangeable terms. Traditionally, reporters have kept their opinions out of their stories. That's what columns have been traditionally for.
This distinction, to be fair, is getting a little tricky. Because of the proliferation of real-time news — first games being on TV, now with real-time stats and information online — the traditional idea of a story that tells you "Who What Where Why When How?" is less valuable to news organizations. So there has been a long push for more "analysis" in stories. This is less opinionated than a column, but more opionated than a traditional story.
To be honest, so are a lot of reporters, columnists and editors.
The headline is the text that appears on top of a story — what non-journalists would think of as the title. Traditionally, reporters have NOT written their own headlines. This was done by editors at the office who put the pages together. Now, with reporters posting their own stories online, they are writing their own headlines more often.
The byline is the reporters' name that appears at the beginning of a story. "By John Smith." The reporters' title will often appear here (staff writer, sports writer, sports reporter, correspondent, etc.), but what those mean varies from paper to paper.
A dateline is the all-caps name of a city that often appears at the beginning of a story. It has a very specific meaning. A dateline means that the reporter is in the city of the deadline. So if I wrote a story with an OSWEGO story, it doesn't just mean that the story happened in Oswego, it means that I am in Oswego reporting it.
I'm happy to add to this, so if there are questions you have, leave them in the comments or on Facebook and I'll answer them here.
Update, Tuesday, 3 p.m. — On Facebook, friends of the blog Doug Schneider, Todd Raymond MaAdam and Jared Paventi shared the following about datelines:
Doug: "And some of the old definition(s) of dateline doesn't apply anymore." Todd: "I believe AP's dateline style is as you describe, but other organizations have dateline styles of where the story took place, regardless of the location of the writer. In fact, that's how the Press worked, when we were all there, although that was a local style decision." Jared: "I agree with Doug that the definition has become more elastic. For the publication that currently supports my craft beer habit, the dateline does not necessarily establish from where the story is being filed but where the news is taking place. If I were writing a piece about a brewery in city x, but doing so from my couch, I could give it a dateline of the city's name."