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Analysis on the news pages

The Times' Washington bureau chief on the difference between a news analysis and an opinion piece.

August 13, 2011
  • The chief: A Times news analysis examined the debt deal's political implications for President Obama. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
The chief: A Times news analysis examined the debt deal's political…

What is news analysis doing on the front page of a newspaper? If you haven't noticed, there's an opinion page for that stuff"

That was the question reader Stuart Fink sent us last week after The Times published a front-page news analysis by reporter Peter Nicholas on the debt-ceiling deal's political fallout for President Obama. The paper has published 35 news analysis pieces so far this year, and the question Fink asks often comes up when we do.

Reply from Washington bureau chief David Lauter:

A newspaper employs many different formats to communicate information and ideas to its readers — news reporting, analysis and commentary being among them. Each is different. A news story primarily answers the question "what happened?" Analysis tackles the question "why did that happen?" while commentary provides an opinion about the facts, basically answering the question "was what happened good or bad?" The first two — what and why — are primarily fact-based inquiries, while a person's view of "good or bad" relies on a value judgment of the facts.

Like most American newspapers, The Times has generally separated fact-based formats — news reporting and analysis — from commentary, keeping the commentary on the Opinion pages (or in the arts or food section when it involves a critic's review). Analysis, along with news reporting, usually appears in the news pages.

In this particular case, the article by Peter Nicholas, one of our White House reporters, tackled the impact the debt debate has had on President Obama's political standing. Note that unlike an opinion-page piece, the article does not present Nicholas' view about whether what Obama did was good or bad; instead, it analyzes why the debate has weakened the president's political position.

News analysis of that sort has become ever more important for us. With all-news radio, cable television and the Internet, most readers already have heard or seen many of the day's headlines by the time they pick up their morning newspaper. Part of what we can provide that is unique — and valuable to many of our readers — is the expertise of reporters who can analyze events and provide the "why" behind the headlines. That's particularly true in a place like Washington, where events of the day are covered heavily, but often somewhat superficially, by other media.

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