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    Journalism 101
    FACT vs. OPINION:
    How to Separate the Two

    ___Unless you are writing an editorial or review, the stories you write are not about you or your opinion. Therefore, it's generally best to write your stories in the third person.

    ___Third person is any person, place, or thing other than the speaker (I, we) and the addressed (you). This means using he, she, it, him, her,
    Click here for a practice exercise.
    they, them, etc. Eliminate the words I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, you and your from your story unless you indicate that a source said them.

    ___Good stories do include both fact and opinion. Opinions must be attributed to sources. Facts do not need to be attributed, unless they are contested or controversial.

    ___Don't inject your opinion, even if it's in the third person. Good journalists make observations, use colorful descriptions and interpret information. For example:

    __With Barack Obama on a roll, having won 11 consecutive state primary elections, many Hillary Clinton supporters are nervous about her chances of winning the Democratic nomination for president.

    __Gov. Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania said Clinton "has got to start campaigning more aggressively. She's in jeopardy of losing, otherwise."

    ___The statement that Obama is on a roll is supported by the fact that he's won 11 consecutive primaries. The observation that Clinton supporters are "nervous" is backed up by quotes from sources such as Rendell.

    ___But be careful.

    ___Avoid words that suggest a personal judgment or opinion, such as should or good. Avoid interpretation not supported by fact. For example:

    __Stansbury University students will hold a puke-in at the school dining hall on Friday to protest Foodmark's unhealthy food policies. All students are encouraged to attend.

    ___Who says Foodmark has unhealthy food policies?

    ___It might seem like a fact to you if you eat in the school cafeteria everyday, but Foodmark officials and the school administration would probably disagree with you. Reporters shouldn't take sides on issues. Also, who "encouraged" the students to attend? This sounds like partisan cheerleading.

    ___Even just one word can change a sentence from neutral to biased. Consider:

    ___Stansbury University will increase tuition next year by only two percent.

    ___Only two percent? Wow, how generous of the college administration! Er, not. Many students probably think they're already paying too much for college. By saying "only two percent," you're spinning a controversial decision in favor of one side.

    ___Remember: If you're unsure whether something is a fact or opinion, ask yourself, "Would everyone agree with this?"

    ___And if it's a fact, double check it. Don't rely on your professor or an editor to catch mistakes. Mistakes undermine your credibility and can even lead to lawsuits.

    -Professor Grabowski