When a general writes a column, is opinion or “local news”?

A Georgia newspaper published the first of what is to be a biweekly column by the commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, Major General Rick Lynch, on the first page of the second section. What’s interesting is not the message, but that online the column is categorized as “Local News” instead of an opinion piece. (Editor & Publisher wrote that it’s labeled as “story”, but so are Op-Eds. It’s the categorization between the byline and title that counts here.)

What’s the big deal? Well, is it really news? Did contributors Lt. Col Randy Martin, Fort Stewart public affairs officer, and 1st Lieutenant Allie Chase ghost-write the piece?

This is how General Lynch opens his piece:

I’ve asked the Savannah Morning News to allow me to write about Iraq, my personal observations here and your 3rd Infantry Division. So, about every two weeks, I plan to write a column so that you have a better understanding of what is really going on.

From Editor & Publisher:

“I’m on the fence about this, my first reaction is that we need to get this man’s view in the paper,” Catron admitted. “This is a viewpoint from someone who was there and that is how we looked at it. We will start off and see where it goes. I knew it would be controversial.”

There’s a difference between getting his view on paper and making it “news”. In the print edition it’s labeled “commentary” (print circulation: 50,000), but online it’s “local news”, but perhaps that will change soon.

Catron said Monday that Lynch is not paid for the column, adding that at least three newsroom staffers have complained. “They were objecting to it and there is a valued argument there,” she said, noting that one of those who objected was the paper’s military reporter, who could not immediately be reached for comment. “Our military reporter is quite concerned, and we are not finished talking about it.”

There are many parallels with news stations broadcasting stories passed of as news but made by government agencies and private firms highlighting the benefits of some program or product.

I think it’s a good public affairs move for the general to reach out, but does the way the newspaper is positioning harm the intent? What if the general wrote only a small bit or none of the story at all and just signed off on what the PAO(s) wrote?

If the general’s article is local news, then shouldn’t Frank Rich’s column, especially yesterday’s damning “Sunday in the Market With McCain” (subscription required), be listed as news as well?

What do you think?

One thought on “When a general writes a column, is opinion or “local news”?

  1. It comes across as propoganda, regardless of the truth of content. If its labeled as opinion, no problem. But the military’s dishonesty in measuring the prospects of the war makes them questionable “reporters” far more than the MSM, at least on Iraq.

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