Media literacy: The need to know on newsroom terminology | Columnists


Newsroom terminology can often be confusing for those outside the industry or unfamiliar with the inner workings of a newspaper. In an effort to focus on media literacy at Iowa State, I’ve compiled some of the most commonly misinterpreted terms during my time at the Daily. 

Letter to the editor: A letter to the editor is a submission by a community member to the newspaper to encourage discussion and add perspective to a certain topic or issue. The Daily encourages letters to the editor, but does not guarantee a letter’s publication. Letters of 300 words or less are more likely to be accepted. Letters to the editor are never written by current staff members. 

Column: A column is written by a staff member of the newspaper on a topic or issue of their choosing, usually relating the community. The column must contain factual information. However, it is not necessary for the columnist to remain objective. 

Editorial: An editorial is written by the Editorial Board of a newspaper. The board consists of multiple members, including the opinion editor and editor in chief. The editorial is the newspaper’s stance on a specific topic or issue. At the Iowa State Daily, there are three community members on the board. 

Reporter: A reporter has many responsibilities at a newspaper, including finding story ideas, interviewing sources, researching information and eventually writing a story. Reporters must remain objective in their roles and must report only true information. 

Editor: An editor is in charge of all the content that goes into a specific section of the newspaper. For example, the Iowa State Daily has more than 20 editors in charge of news, sports, opinion, visuals, digital and more. The editor works directly with reporters to develop story angles and coordinate the content.

Beat: A beat is the area assigned to a reporter for regular coverage. A reporter works a beat to develop story ideas and to get to know sources on a regular basis. A good reporter covers their beat holistically and ensures that all sides of a story is being told. Covering a beat does not mean that a reporter is doing public relations. 

SEO: SEO stands for search engine optimization. Many news organizations use SEO in an attempt to draw in readers and better understand how they are finding stories and in what ways they can optimize their content to be more accessible. For example, editors use SEO to understand what readers are searching for in an effort to create headlines and URLs.

Off the record: While never encouraged, reporters can talk to sources off the record to learn more about a certain topic or issue — typically of high public interest or necessity. If a conversation is off the record, a reporter can never use the information obtained in their reporting. 

Sponsored content: Sponsored content is a form of content marketing being used by newspapers to bring in different advertising streams and to diversify their marketing. Sponsored content is never written by the editorial staff of the newspaper, but rather a separate creative services agency or the advertising department. Sponsored content appears natively in the newspaper or website but is usually labeled to differentiate it from the news. 

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