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An Echo Press Editorial: A guide to newspaper terms

When talking about a particular topic, it's helpful to know the lingo.

If you're a baseball fan, for instance, it's useful to know what an ERA is (earned run average for pitchers; the lower number, the better) or what OPS means (on-base plus slugging percentage for batting; the higher number, the better).

If you get everything all balled up, it can cause confusion.

Similarly, it helps to know the correct terms for the different kinds of items a person reads in the newspaper.

For example, if a reader says, "I really liked the ad that Karen Tolkkinen (reporter) wrote last week," the reader is undoubtedly referring to a story or a column. Or if someone slams the newspaper on our Facebook page for printing a biased, one-sided "story," chances are it was actually a letter to the editor or other item from the Opinion page.

To be fair, the terms can get confusing — just like trying to figure out how an OPS is derived. Here's a guide, from the newspaper's perspective, for keeping things straight:

• A story. This is information that was written by a newspaper reporter. Stories often carry a "byline" that identifies the particular writer or who was responsible for gathering the information. Instead of a byline, some shorter stories may credit the story to "Echo Press staff." Stories are sometimes referred to as "articles" or "reports," which is OK but here at the newspaper, we prefer the simpler, "stories."

• An ad. These are the boxes of information in the paper that promote a particular product, company, service, event, sale, etc. People pay to put this information in the paper and have control over how big it is, the exact wording, whether it's in color, etc. An ad, of course, is completely different than a story.

• A letter to the editor. This is one person's opinion about a particular topic or issue. Letters always appear on the Opinion page. Letters do not represent the opinion of the newspaper or any of our reporters. We do not pick and choose which letters get in. As long as they meet our basic guidelines (300 words or less, no personal attacks, must include a name and address) and have some kind of local connection, they will be printed.

• Paid endorsement letters. These are letters (200 words or less) that endorse a political party or a candidate during the political season (from when filings open to a week before election day) and must be paid for in advance. They are labeled as such and appear on the Opinion page.

• A commentary. This is basically just a longer version of a letter. They're typically in the 400 to 600 word range and, like letters, only appear on the Opinion page. Commentaries are sometimes a better option for addressing important local topics in a more in-depth way or as a response to a similar-sized commentary or a newspaper editorial.

• An editorial. This is the opinion of the Echo Press Editorial Board, which includes Publisher Jody Hanson, Editor Ross Evavold and News Editor Al Edenloff. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of any of our reporters, sales staff or other employees. Editorials only appear on the Opinion page, and yes, they may be opinionated, slanted a particular way or — gasp! — "biased." But remember this is on the Opinion page and reflects the editorial board's viewpoint. Readers who disagree are encouraged to write a letter or a commentary to express their own point of view.

• A column. These appear on the Opinion page as "Observations from the Archives," "In the Know" and "It's Our Turn." From time to time, columns also appear in other sections of the paper and contain a "column signature" that clearly identifies the writer and their title. Columns are often written in first-person and express observations, advice, personal experiences or thoughts that don't even have to be political.

• Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down: Think of these as "mini editorials." The items are often submitted by readers, sometimes anonymously, and if the editorial board thinks they make a worthy point, they'll be printed on the Opinion page.

We hope this will help people better understand newspaper terms and get everyone on the same page.

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