It’s a question tempered by time, molded recently by technology and dictated by the current political climate, but with Occupy Wall Street and the Republican primaries being the hot headline-grabbing topics at the moment in the US – it has to be asked once again, where do journalists belong in these national discussions. Not just professionally, but personally?’
Do we have our own voice? Where does it belong in the public realm? Does it belong at all?
Is our supposed unbiased and total objectivity a detriment to our audiences? We’re all trained to live our lives with a healthy dose of skepticism and, at times, cynicism, but what about our audiences? Do we censor the product by creating this culture of “objectivity and fairness”? Do we dampen our readers’ skepticism of well, the source?
I, for one, am happily respectful of my ethics and am content reporting the national conversation whilst personally watching from the sideline. A healthy media is one perpetually questioned by its readers, who are inevitably, its customers.
But there’s an almost teenage and dare I say, Woody Allen-esque, way that the media views itself and at times, bends itself into a pretzel, to fend off allegations of bias or a lack of objectivity.
Some reporters are brazen with their opinions, others won’t even vote. The dichotomy is as strong as the debate itself.
We’re reporters, so of course every detail matters. Should we post political opinion on Facebook or Twitter? Have and display political paraphernalia like bumper stickers, patches or lawn signs? Should we ever protest? Attend rallies?
Should we be fired for expressing our opinions publicly?
- You should conduct yourself in social media forums with an eye to how your behavior or comments might appear if we were called upon to defend them as a news organization. In other words, don’t behave any differently online than you would in any other public setting.
- You must not advocate for political or other polarizing issues online. This extends to joining online groups or using social media in any form (including your Facebook page or a personal blog) to express personal views on a political or other controversial issue that you could not write for the air or post on NPR.org.
- Your simple participation in some online groups could be seen to indicate that you endorse their views. Consider whether you can accomplish your purposes by just observing a group’s activity, rather than becoming a member. If you do join, be clear that you’ve done so to seek information or story ideas. And if you “friend” or join a group representing one side of an issue, do so for a group representing the competing viewpoint, when reasonable to do so.
Lisa Simeone, who is a freelancer for one show called “Soundprint”, and the host of “World of Opera” was fired for her participation in the Occupy DC movement.
There’s a been a bit of outcry over her firing – especially since she is not a formal NPR employee, and the two shows she’s involved with, have nothing to do with news.
She was fired from one show, “Soundprint” because the production company adopted NPR’s code of ethics.
But Simeone’s work on “The World of Opera”, which is a WDAV (a North Carolina-based NPR affiliate) production, but distributed to over 60 other affiliates by NPR, has caused the most trouble.
The radio station would not fire Simeone. So, because NPR has no power to order their affiliate station to fire/hire someone, they just stopped distributing the “World of Opera”.
Simeone said this to the Associated Press:
- “I don’t cover news. In none of the shows that I do, do I cover the news,” she told the AP. “What is NPR afraid I’ll do? Insert a seditious comment into a synopsis of ‘Madame Butterfly?’
Another example is Natasha Lennard, a freelancer for the New York Times, who was arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge almost a month ago while she was covering the Occupy Wall Street protests for the Times.
She was recently removed from covering the story after video of her speaking “somewhat sympathetically” at a panel about the protests.
The New York Times has flirted with the public perception of being “too liberal” for a while. And while the perception is more or less correct, one has to wonder the cause of it.
Is it so much the fault of staff and editors, or just the fact that to survive in an increasingly tough market, one has to write and report for an audience, which in the case of the Times, is extraordinarily liberal.
There is thought that these, what some would call knee-jerk, reactions are themselves reactionary responses to allegations from public (sometimes not even their own readers or subscribers), and in NPR’s case, government, scrutiny of journalism.
There was an interesting live chat on Poynter last week about if it’s actually a big deal for us journalists to share our opinions. Anyone one who has been in a newsroom, or frequents the bar with their journofriends, knows that we’re a pretty opinionated lot – but just not in the public eye (unless its about ourselves ex: Johann Hari).
It’s impossible to be without bias, but as a reporter we’re trained to, and should always, approach our work with a dedicated and committed method of objectively viewing and disseminating information.
But has there ever been, or will there ever be, a business model that can truly foster that objectivism without bowing to outside pressure from readers and critics alike? Is this idea of objectivity just a fool’s errand in what is pretty much a perpetually cyclical debate of self-policing and outside scrutiny?
There are a lot more questions in this post than answers, as this is a subject that can never seem to have one fool-proof and definitive answer.
What do you think? Where does our voice belong? Is the American media just overzealous and holier than thou? Did I drink too much coffee (four cups) while writing this?
Comment below or tweet us @wannabehacks
- The Jobseeker asks: Should Journalism students be reading the dailies, daily? Yesterday the Entrepreneur, Undergrad and I had a brief conversation...
- The Jobseeker asks: Are journalists really that interesting There’s this old tale about Richard Nixon on work placement...
- The Jobseeker asks: What matters more, the personality or institution I’ve got a man crush on former Newcastle left-back Jose...
- The Jobseeker screws up: A lesson in the unexpected Job interviews present a lot of challenges, but most are...
- Evil bagels, occupations and Facebook friends: The Jobseeker looks at his local papers Being the token foreigner Hack I figured I’d try introducing...
After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look