Critical Thinking: Should Journalists Be Allowed to Participate in Political Events If They Aren’t Covering Them?

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“Although the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics doesn’t explicitly address the topic of political rallies, it discourages journalists from taking part in political events. Do you think journalists should be allowed to participate in these events if they aren’t covering them?”

 

Nahila Bonfiglio, 26, senior, The University of Texas—Austin

Bonfiglio is a journalism major. She has worked as a reporter and a columnist for The Daily Texan.

 

Objectivity is often considered a core covenant of journalistic integrity. Reporters are encouraged to avoid any appearance of bias in both their jobs and their day-to-day lives. However, transparency is another aspect of journalism that is arguably as—if not more—important.

In an effort to maintain the faith of the public we serve, reporters have spent decades skirting around questions about our political beliefs. Journalists’ bias—accrued over years of researching stories and poring over news—has garnered more resentment from the public in recent months. However, the public needs to understand we have been taught to suppress that bias and produce truthful, informed content. That attending a rally or protest does not negate the credibility or objectivity of a reporter. We are only human and we all have opinions, but we are trained to keep our biases in check.

Journalists routinely take in the black and white of the world, but also see the gritty grey in between. Seeing the world at its best and its worst builds strong opinions. The public should know that their trusted sources are indeed biased. But they should also know that personal bias will never stop them from getting the facts, responding to and rendering them in an honest manner. The good reporters enter every situation searching for the truth of the matter, and regardless of their views, will share it.

There are exceptions. There is a difference between standing up for something and standing against something. Attending a rally in protest of an individual is different from standing up in defense of a common liberty or to protect fundamental rights. The press should always search for the entire story, and we limit ourselves when we attack rather than listen.

Journalists are the public’s first line of defense against falsehood. We hunt the truth every day to ensure that those we serve are well informed, and we take this responsibility very seriously. But this does not negate our own interests or opinions. We are more than just gatekeepers—we are people who should pursue both objectivity and transparency.

Just remember, acknowledging that the human beings behind the words are biased does not make the news they report any less true.

 

Ryan Phillips, 27, editor, Starkville (Miss.) Daily News  

Before joining the Daily News this year, Phillips previously worked as a reporter and editor for weather.com, the Associated Press and the Birmingham Business Journal.

The last election cycle brought out a previously unseen brand of divisiveness across the U.S. and put the media at odds with a larger audience than many thought possible.

The primary catalyst for the creation of this gulf between medium and audience could be seen in the popularity of partisan media—most notably in the months and days leading up to the November general election. Traditional media famously overlooked a considerable part of the country and failed in their predictions, leaving the likes of neoconservative and neoliberal outlets to pick up the slack. These outlets don’t hold themselves to the same standards and code of ethics as traditional media and have morphed the public’s understanding of what the media’s role in their society is.

The mission and purpose of the journalist is not to stoke the flame, but inform the masses of its existence.

I don’t see any harm in a journalist being politically active on their own time. It’s a healthy component of what makes an involved citizen. But when those beliefs compromise the objectivity that should be the foundation of their craft, it becomes problematic.

Participating in a physical political protest or event should be allowed by newsrooms, but only if the participant is not taking part in a journalistic capacity as it relates to the larger story. Someone covering the possibility of a protest should never be the first to throw a brick through a window. When considering what events to participate in, it all boils down to grade school maturity, requiring an informed and balanced understanding of what the bigger picture truly.

It may be fun to be a part of a story, but a journalist ceases to be an observer when they become part of the story. Where’s the balance? Where’s the objectivity?

If anything, I would encourage journalists to be politically active—or at least engaged outside of work. As citizens (and journalists), we shouldn’t exclude ourselves from the democratic process. If you register to vote, you should vote and at least be engaged in the policies you want to see put into action by an elected government.

Politics in the workplace should be handled equally across job sectors. Simply put, don’t push your opinions at work unless you are paid to do so.

 

Published: April 19, 2017

2 thoughts on “Critical Thinking: Should Journalists Be Allowed to Participate in Political Events If They Aren’t Covering Them?

  • April 19, 2017 at 10:46 am
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    absolutely NOT … besides, the text above says “we have been taught to avoid bias,” or words to that effect … somehow, i do not discern THAT in today’s mainstream journalism …

    Reply
  • April 19, 2017 at 11:13 am
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    There’s a huge difference between participating in an event, usually known as a political rally, for an individual or group of people and participating to show support for or opposition to a cause. We’d like to think that causes are timeless — think freedom of the press — while individuals and groups can easily change their positions. So a reporter should never participate in a rally for or against a person, group or party.

    That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t attend because he’s curious to see firsthand what’s going on. He should be careful to be perceived as not taking sides.

    That said, a reporter should weigh carefully before participating in, and contributing to, worthy causes. Participating in a rally for more government support/funding for research of a loathsome disease differs markedly from participating in a rally for, say, religious freedom, which has almost as many interpretations as there are people.

    Reporters should vote (i’d like to think we’re the best-informed members of the electorate but know better) and feel free to contribute to candidates’ campaigns — as long as they’re not covering those candidates. Why shouldn’t a sports reporter, for example, vote for or contribute to a candidate or party? Where’s the conflict? (No doubt some reader of this response will develop one).

    It all comes down to a feel test. If a reporter has the slightest doubt or hesitation about being present or making a donation, he should not attend or offer financial support.

    Reply

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