The requirement that news professionals conceal their opinions is under the microscope right now, but should young journalists still play it safe?
Here’s the deal: Two journalists lost their jobs because they participated in Occupy Wall Street. Several, including The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf, have questioned whether the need for journalistic independence is enough to merit the firings:
“To build your credibility on viewlessness is to concede, every time an employee of yours is shown to be a sentient, opinionated person, that your credibility has taken a hit. To tout and enforce your viewlessness is to hold your own reputation hostage to reality; it makes your credibility, the most valuable thing you have, vulnerable to every staffer’s Tweet, or incriminating Facebook photograph, or inane James O’Keefe hidden video sting operation.”
Friedersdorf seconds the view of Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor, that the “View from Nowhere” is a recipe for flawed reporting.
This is just one instance of the debate. Need I repeat David Weinberger’s phrase that “transparency is the new objectivity”? That perspective seems to have a new endorser every day. If you’re clear about how you discovered something or why you feel a certain way about it, you’re in the clear. Evidence trumps neutrality. It seems I’m studying journalism amid a fundamental shift in the way its practitioners are expected to manage themselves.
But now, the student-journalists part. The last move we want to make in a highly uncertain job market is to compromise our credibility in the eyes of potential employers. Although Rosen argues that sharing a point of view can actually enhance journalistic “authority,” the industry norm is still that news professionals should leave opinions at the door. For example, here’s part of a notice The Associated Press sent its staffers in July, according to the Social Times:
“In at least two recent cases, we have seen a few postings on social networks by AP staffers expressing personal opinions on issues in the news.
“This has happened on the New York Senate vote on gay marriage and on the Casey Anthony trial. These posts undermine the credibility of our colleagues who have been working so hard to assure balanced and unbiased coverage of these issues.”
The truth is, I’m don’t know whether broadcasting my opinions would poke a hole in my reporting. But the real question is: Should journalism students even experiment with what Rosen calls ”here’s where I’m coming from” journalism? Would we be shooting ourselves in the foot?
Because I want to work for a political-news organization someday, I’m not ready to take that step. Sure, I’ll weigh in on sporting events and digital-media issues like the recent Klout changes. But politics? No way. The risk of deflating my career before it gets off the ground is, well, startling.
(Yes, I did just express an opinion about not expressing opinions.)
Photo courtesy of Joi
Updated Nov. 25 to include “Sure, I’ll weigh in on sporting events and digital-media issues like the recent Klout changes. But politics? No way.”