Does the public need to know what journalists think?

I’ve noticed a shift in how people regard journalists, and the transparency expected of them.

When I first started out in this business, it was quickly apparent that I as a journalist should never be openly vocal about my views on an issue while reporting on it, or having a hand in reporting it.

For example: during an election, I never have a candidate’s sign on my lawn.

In my view, I’m supposed to remain impartial during the campaign (the fact that I no longer put words in the paper or online is irrelevant. I’m an editor, and can direct our coverage). A sign on my lawn would indicate – not just to my neighbours – that I have a preference.

But after a great ethics discussion with journalism students at Carleton University, I wonder if there has been a shift.

Indeed, Jeff Jarvis says that we should share as much as possible in  ‘publicness’  – I would assume this would include a reporter’s political leanings.

In 2010, the Washington News Council, an independent nonprofit group, developed and promoted the TAO of Journalism seal, inviting journalists, bloggers, writers to take the pledge:

Take the TAO Pledge and display the TAO Seal on your website, blog, printed page, newsletter, or wherever. It’s a promise to your readers, viewers or listeners that you will be Transparent about who you are, Accountable for your mistakes, and Open to other points of view.

Our view of how journalists should behave is changing.

NYU professor and Pressthink blogger Jay Rosen believes that ‘accuracy and transparency are far more important than the appearance of objectivity.’ (Rosen expands on this in a great podcast here)

And for these future journalists in my class, many couldn’t agree more.

Put a sign on your lawn, post your thoughts on a candidate on Facebook. Let people know more about the person writing the story.

Whole news networks have been developed around a bias. And for the students I was talking to, that’s a good thing. They know what to expect from Sun News Network in Canada and Fox News in the U.S. It’s not a question of whether or not a reporter has a bias.

Just get the bias out of the way, and then I know your perspective on the story, they argued.

For me, it just doesn’t sit well. Call me old-fashioned (gah), but when readers have trusted me to give them a balanced view of the story, I’d rather not wear my political leanings on my sleeve.

Or on my lawn.

(Photo from blog An American in Moscow)

1 thought on “Does the public need to know what journalists think?

  1. I think they key to Jay Rosen’s comment is “appearance” of objectivity. In otherwords, not true objectivity. I guess the argument is whether or not we think journalists can actually be objective vs not declaring a personal leaning and therefore only “”appearing” objective. I think the good ones can be, and others who can’t live up to their appearances and should declare so that their bias is evident.
    What concerns me more is an audience that selects who to listen to / read / follow based on a journalist’s declared bias. That only reinforces an opinion vs giving you perspective on an issue. The public needs perspective and that’s what I expect from media.

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