The Politics of Subject Tags

There is an ongoing dialogue here at WPR centering on subject tags for our stories. The utilitarian function of these tags is so that readers can quickly find content relating to their interests. But as we try to narrow complex issues down to easily searchable one- and two-word topics, we often find ourselves grappling with questions of politics and geopolitics.

The question popped up once again today, triggered by Frida Ghitis’ column on Iran sanctions: Should stories on Iran’s nuclear program be placed in the “WMD” category or the “Energy” category? Although the column doesn’t really call for one or the other, it underscored the way in which, when it comes to nuclear issues, we have two options that attach very different connotations.

Similarly, a story on Hamas fits easily under “Radical Movements,” but should it include a “Domestic Politics” tag or a “Terrorism” tag when referring to intra-Palestinian relations? Should Taiwan-China stories be considered “Domestic Politics” or “Diplomacy and Strategy” stories? Even something as benign as region tags can be cause for reflection, as we choose, for instance, between “Middle East” and “Europe” tags for Turkey, even as Ankara and Brussels parse their own stances on the question.

Though it may seem like just another technicality of online publishing, it brings to light a larger editorial discussion, both here at WPR and elsewhere: the inescapable fact that tags create an implied statement on the content.

So while browsing your daily news sites, look for the mini op-ed that hangs over each story: the tag.