Monday, March 17, 2008

Interesting story of the day #3

Time has an interesting story up about whether journalists should be open about their political party affiliations or even vote at all. The writer argues that although journalists generally hide their party affiliations or candidate preferences in the interest of remaining objective, transparency may be a better way to go. He argues that treating party affiliation as though it's something people should be ashamed of only makes people more suspicious of the so-called "liberal" media.

But more suspicious than they are already? The biggest reason to go open kimono is that the present system does what journalism should never do: it perpetuates a lie. Modern political journalism is based on the bogus concept of neutrality (that people can be steeped in campaigns yet not care who wins) and the legitimate ideal of fairness (that people can place intellectual integrity and rigor over their rooting interests). Voting and disclosing would expose the sham of neutrality—which few believe anyway—and compel opinion and news writers alike to prove, story by story, that fairness is possible anyway

I often say to friends, semi-seriously, that I picked a bad time to become an "objective" reporter. I've always been a person with strong political convictions, and up until I came back to school, I was extremely vocal about my beliefs. Entering the field in an election year, particularly one with so many interesting candidates and issues, makes it hard for me to keep my opinions to myself. I took most of the bumper stickers off my car, made my profiles on social networking sites private (and removed most answers to political questions), and stopped using my real name to comment on political Web sites. My political affiliation isn't exactly a secret. All of my friends know who I support and anyone who wanted to dig deep enough into a Google search of my name would find things from previous election years that would give it away. My party affiliation is clear on my voter registration card that anyone can view down at the county elections office. But in the interest of finding a job and gaining the trust of sources and readers, I want to be careful about what I disclose.

I am absolutely capable of writing honest, accurate stories on any topic or person. When I covered politics for the Emerald, people often told me my stories were fair and objective, but I certainly had opinions on those topics. I am careful to keep my opinion out of stories and I have no doubts that I can leave my beliefs at the home when I go to work. If asked what my affiliation is, I won't lie, but I don't need to wear it on my sleeve. I have given this issue extensive thought, though, and I am glad to read an article arguing some of the same feelings I have about politics and journalism ...

I've argued for years that the concept that journalists are 100 percent objective is ludicrous. Human beings, by their very nature, can not be truly objective. Journalists, especially those who cover beats, become so familiar with the topics they cover that it would be nearly impossible to avoid forming an opinion. Our goal is to pursue the truth, and the truth is not always objective.

While some journalists choose not to vote at all, I would argue that journalists, more than anyone else, have an obligation to vote. Even those of us who do not report on politics tend to follow the news more closely than the average citizen. If the goal of the media is to act as a fourth estate in order to make sure citizens can make informed decisions at the voting booth, then it only makes sense to argue that journalists, especially those of us who cover politics, are among the most informed voters out there. We know more about these issues (and we pay more attention to all sides of the issues) than almost anyone, and it seems unrealistic and naive for anyone to expect us to remain completely neutral after sorting through all that information. Should we be expected to give up our rights and responsibilities as citizens when we begin working as journalists?

As someone who lives in a democratic society, I consider voting to be a civic duty. As a journalist and person who follows the news very closely, I would consider myself to be an irresponsible citizen if I did not put my knowledge of politics to use when I vote.

1 comment:

Laura Ruggeri said...

I really like the idea of journalists revealing their political part affiliations. I don't think it would hinder honest and fair reporting, if anything it would make it better. Stating upfront what your opinion is and then presenting both sides would allow people to make up their own minds without wondering if you left something out because you believe one thing and not another. It's ridiculous to think that a reporter wouldn't have feelings or opinions about the beat they had been covering. And asking a reporter to not vote is asking too much.