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Columnists – opinionated or sentimental?

Newspapers have become more opinionated. Not’s not my opinion, it’s a fact as proved when I spent a long time in the British Library’s newspaper section going through past opinion columns.

In this sense, opinionated means ‘having more opinion columns’. Back in the 1970s, 1980s and even the 1990s there were just a handful of opinion columns, by the early 2000s newspapers appeared online, but as the Internet Archive Wayback Machine records shows, Comment lacked its own navigation on the Guardian just a decade ago.

But has the sentiment and tone changed too – are papers becoming more opinionated?

British newspapers
Newspaper opinion – many colours, but what is the tone?

Comment is free and numerous

I’ve chosen the Guardian as an example as its Comment is Free section is renowned as a distinct section of the paper.

However, it was not until spring 2006 that the Guardian launched it only had eight comment sections and ten blogs – more than ten years ago, to be sure, but that is nothing compared to the cacophony of opinions (a separate blog and comment distinction long ago being dropped) now available.

We’ve gone from 18 to 45 opinions on the page. True, this includes curated sections, at the moment on Julian Assange, that includes older opinions, but does not include the link to individual commentators whose visages are pushed at the front.

Opinion pieces wholesale

What does this growth in opinion mean, if anything? I am not sure yet, but that’s why I want to solve it. The first stage is to start collecting data from the major, free British newspaper opinion pages – The Guardian, Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Daily Telegraph – and analyse the words used in the promoted sections (so avoiding the ‘most popular’/’most commented’ sections).

The plan is to have the data run through my little word analysis tool each month and publish the data for all to see comment upon.

If I’ve missed anything out let me know in the comments.

By Jonathan Richardson

Jonathan Richardson is a writer and the editor of Considered Words.

He's worked as a journalist, writer and analyst for organisations including the BBC and Which? He's also written for the stage in Cambridge, radio and sketches at the Edinburgh festival.

He's now a freelance writer and data analyst.

2 replies on “Columnists – opinionated or sentimental?”

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