Journalism and opinion (well, my opinions)

I’m going to go out on a limb a little bit with this post and write down some stuff I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

Last year in one of my journalism classes, we talked about bias in the news and what opinions reporters were allowed to reveal about their lives. This is one topic that has always stuck with me, probably because the lines are so blurry. It’s also been on my mind a lot the last couple of weeks as we’ve talked about personal blogs, ethics and how everything I put online is pretty much there forever.

Part of the discussion that I’ve seen brought up again and again is where to draw the line in maintaining unbiased reporting. Sometimes this happens on the job. I’ve heard the debate over whether journalists should accept anything free while writing stories, including and up to not accepting free food given out at events. I’ve talked through stories about editors who question whether reporters should vote or put out their political opinions. And of course, no discussion is complete without somehow talking about philanthropy and religion. Should journalists donate money to charity? I’ve heard relatively extreme arguments from both sides of the spectrum on all of these issues, and the things about which journalists agree often overlap, but usually aren’t the same.

This is a question I wrestle with a lot. As a journalist, how separate should I keep my personal opinions from my job? Obviously when I am reporting I shouldn’t be preaching my political opinions to my sources. But what about when I am off the clock? I’ll speak freely and say that it doesn’t take much searching through my personal blog or my social media profiles to figure out where I stand on a number of religious and political strains of thoughts. And while I often try to be as unbiased as possible in my public life (at this point the trait comes as much from being extremely indecisive as from figuring where I stand as a journalist), I know I have a few stances I hold very deeply, and it doesn’t take much digging for them to come up. And honestly, these things are a pretty integral part of who I am.

The exact stance on how journalists should treat their opinions seems to vary depending on the news organization. I find this somewhat comforting. The lines aren’t necessarily hard and fast all the time. There’s room to figure out what I need to do to become both a good journalist and the person I feel I am supposed to be. But these difficult lines can also be frustrating. Sometimes I ask where to draw the line between self-expression and “that’s more than you really want to know about me” on my public profiles (and that’s more than just personal opinions, sometimes it’s just talking too much about my life). At this point I definitely err on the side of expression, I’ll admit it. I think I can be upfront about my convictions without forcing them on other people or letting it bias my writing. And as someone who sometimes struggles to express her opinions, I think it’s good for me. But that doesn’t mean that as I learn more about both myself and the career I want to pursue, I don’t ask these questions. I think they’re important to wrestle through on both levels.

I attended a City Council meeting here for J2100 last semester. It was definitely a good way for me to start thinking about how to cover political issues.

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3 thoughts on “Journalism and opinion (well, my opinions)

  1. Somehow I have found myself sucked into the world of journalism. Media & cultural studies is my minor, political science is my major, and politics proper is my career path. My very outspoken political opinions do not reflect onto my writing, unless the outlet is purposefully slanted in that direction (I have written for two different websites with very distinct outlooks).

    However, there is a difference between believing a certain way and writing a neutral piece. I can believe a certain way about events and not betray how I feel about them within the article. That being said, I do not plan to stay in newspaper journalism forever. There is something to be said for somebody with personal views who is eminently objective (or as close to it as possible) with his articles and public persona. It is just something I would not be able to do.

  2. Allie – great questions to have and address now as opposed to later in your journalism career. I have to agree with Danny that there is something to be said about a person who has strong individual views but can write objectively. I think this type of person is the kind that most news organizations would love to employ, but they are quite hard to come by. People get emotional, they get excited, they tend to let that show through. With such strict rules about voting, philanthropy, and the like, different news organizations are trying to minimize this effect. I see it as the same approach parents take when dealing with teenagers. Sure, every parent would like to think that their kid won’t explore a cabinet of alcohol or take the car for a joyride, but a lot of parents will keep track of their keys and lock up the liquor as a precaution. Figure out your own boundaries, and use the rules as a way to keep yourself in check when you hit those “gray areas”.

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