Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Can Journalists Attend Political Rallies?

SEVERAL NEWS ORGANIZATIONS have banned their journalists from "participating" in political events, including the upcoming event in Washington DC with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

"NPR journalists may not participate in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers," reads a memo sent to NPR staffers. "This restriction applies to the upcoming Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallies."

The news organizations argue that journalists could lose credibility if seen at those events.

Should journalists be able to attend political rallies? Are they allowed to have their own political opinions?

Should they be registered to vote within a specific party? Or should they remain undecided or independent?

20 comments:

Cara Stefchak said...

I think these news organizations are justified in banning journalists who actively report on politics from voicing their political stance. Whether they're attending a rally, sticking a bumper sticker on their car, or posting a candidate's lawn sign in front of their house, it would threaten their credibility. A lot of news organizations ban political advocacy for journalists, which to me, makes sense.

I'm interested to see if people are going to soon make a deal of journalists revealing their views on political issues on social networking sites.

Arielle Arlan said...

Why would you ban a journalist from covering a political rally? Isn't it their job to cover the campaigns and be right there with the candidates? Yes, a journalist shouldn't let their own opinions get in the way of covering stories and I can understand that it could cause the loss of credibility, but to keep them away from the news is wrong.

Paki said...

I agree with those who feel the idea of opinion-free journalism is outdated, but I also feel it was and never will be possible. You cannot totally distance yourself from your own experiences; it's inevitable that you see things through your own individual and unique lens. Particularly when it comes to politics.

Geo said...

*** This isn't about banning journalists from covering events. It's about banning journalists from attending these events as supporters.

- George
(the teacher who should have made that more clear in the original post)

Jacob Colon said...

I agree with the people at NPR who are projecting the image of their organization to be as objective as possible. The issue with journalists covering events and openly supporting one member of the event is that people who see this journalist will relate the organization he/she works for with what bias the journalist has.

Although it is notorious for appealing to more liberal viewers, NPR doesn't want to relay the message that it is a self-aware liberal organization, because that warps people's perception of their journalistic credibility. No (or at least most) news organizations never claim that they are more left or right leaning for this particular reason.

Jacob Colon said...

more liberal listeners***

Lauren Haber said...

I think NPR seems like a very dull company to work for...First, reporters like Juan Williams cannot voice their honest opinions as analysts, now their journalists cannot have open opinions about politics. I feel that the management at this company trying to control everything that their staff does makes them look worse than if they simply let their journalists have more freedom, regardless of their opinions fitting in with those of the overall company. I think that as citizens of the United States, everyone should have the freedom to voice their political opinion, be registered how they choose to be, and vote fore whoever they please, regardless of their day job.

Lauren Haber said...

vote *for

Erik Lexie said...

I think I may start to sound like a broken record, but I also have only stated this in passing in the past and now I'm going to make it my main point: I really don't think that this is truly an issue of right/wrong when it comes to journalism as a whole. What it's really about is what's your objective as a journalist? I think there are many valid answers.

NPR has a particular mission, and so they are going to expect all journalists working for them not to do anything that would get in the way of that mission. They clearly want to maintain an image as being as unbiased and nonpartisan as possible, so it's entirely reasonable for them to expect their journalists to behave in a way that won't compromise that image.

Not every journalist needs to try to fit that image, though. Some are clear about what their political orientation is and their whole purpose is to advance it, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. The world needs as many kinds of journalism and as many kinds of news organizations as it can get.

I might be going, it depends on whether my sister decides to go because I'm pretty sure my car would explode if I tried to take it on more than a 15 minute trip. If I do, I'll be sure to provide a report, and it'll probably be pretty obvious how much of an NPR-listening, liberal little shit I am. :)

Alexis Wright-Whitley said...

I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with NPR not wanting its journalists to go out and support specific parties, although NPR if pretty left-winged. It's just one of those things. For example, as Temple students, when we go out and do things, we, in a way, represent Temple University; so if getting drunk every night is what you do, that's is how Temple might be represented as. The same goes for the NPR journalists. If one goes out and says, "Yeah! Republican Party! WOO!" NPR's listeners would think that obviously liberal organization is secretly Republican.

However, I think that journalists should be able to speak their minds and have an opinion; it's going to come out eventually, as Cara said - it could end up on the lawn in the front of someone's house.

Jonathan said...

Cara makes an excellent case, and one I wholeheartedly agree with.

I would just like to add that I think journalists whose coverage does not include politics - a sportswriter or someone who covers the police scanner beat, for instance - shouldn't have the same restriction, as whether I'm a Democrat or Republican has no bearing on what I say about the Phillies.

This is similar to the post a while back where we talked about reporters being in relationships with who they cover - just move them to another post where they are not covering their loved one, and all is well.

Kelly Offner said...

Ehhh...I think this ban creeps along the thin line of rights of the American journalist. To forbid a reporter from attending a political rally that they are not reporting on makes no sense to me. There is no conflict of interest here, no story is being influenced.
And the question of voting scares me. The right to vote is one that has been fought for since the United States inception. Even if all that's being asked is to not declare a party-this restricts the journalist from voting in certain elections. Denying that right is unconstitutional.
What's next? Going to a Phillies game may impair my ability to write a story on how Howard went down looking?

Cynthia Rau said...

I think that Kelly brought up a good point. And if what she says is true, then any journalist who attends a public event could be viewed to have a biased opinion on that event. Although the intentions of the NPR are to protect the reputation of the journalist, shouldn't it be up to their own disgresion if they want to risk losing credability points within their field? I feel as though the journalist should have the right to decide if they want to publicly display their political beliefs or not. If they do not have that right, then why give them the right to vote? Personally I feel that I would try to either keep my affiliation as hush-hush as possible or state my affiliation but make it very obvious that I am open to other ideas in order to protect my position as a journalist.

Tracy L. Kirkendall said...

Tricky question. Should a journalist, trusted for objectivity, be allowed to attend a political rally? Hmmmm...I'm going to be brave and say yes on this one. Here's why: first and foremost, a citizen has the right and duty to be an active participant in this government. If not, then the government doesn't work. Here's another reason. It is a risky business for employers to say what employees can do off the clock. It's like opening Pandora's Box. Imagine restaurants restricting employees from eating at competing reastaurants, imagine hospitals restricting doctors from attending Catholic mass because the hospital performs abortions, imagine Ford saying you can't drive a dogge, and the list goes on and on... Basically, it comes down to this: Organizations should not restrict employees from engaging in specific activities outside of work. On the flip side, employees should have enough knowledge not to do anything directly damaging to the organizations they work for. Tricky, isn't it?

jeanette vega said...

is this a real question?. Absolutely
!. We are journalists and human beings too. As long as they abide by the principles of journalism and report both sides an unbiasedly then they are good to go.

Geo said...

Personally, I am a journalist first and a human being second.

- George
(the teacher who meant that as a joke but is slowly realizing that he actually believes he is a journalist first and foremost)

Lauren Hertzler said...

I can see both sides of this argument completely, but I keep coming back to my initial opinion of how involved I am in my political party and how upset I would be if I could no longer interact with it. I enjoy attending political events and rallies, and I enjoy blogging and writing commentary articles on them... which is still journalism. I do understand that if I was writing a hard news story I would have to "clean my slate" as to having no opinion, and I really do feel like I could do this very effectively, contributing to both sides of the story.

I skimmed through the comments above and I think I saw someone comparing favoring one political party to favoring the Phillies (or any other sports team for that manner). I think this example is exactly the same thing. I am a pretty big Phillies fan, and I enjoy going to games and writing about them, but I know if I was to write a hard news story, I would have to be unbiased - and I could successfully do this.

Although the public may assume that I am biased just for attending the events, as long as my articles express both sides, I feel as though I should have nothing to worry about.

Haley Kmetz said...

I think that journalists are allowed to have their own opinions. If they keep it private, I have no objection to them registering with a party. The trick is keeping private life and opinions separate from stories they write. I agree that attending a political rally would compromise the integrity of the journalist because it is impossible to keep that attendance private.

Charlotte Jacobson said...

I think being banned from political events is rather ridiculous. If they're not reporting on it, does it really matter if they attend the event- even to expand their knowledge of the world around them. Isn't that a part of journalism- learning about the world we live in? As long as the journalist keeps their work objective and free of opinions, what events they attend should not matter. I understand the whole credibility issue, but as far as I know, I don't go looking into a journalist's background when reading an article. And as for registering in a political party- that tends to be kept private, so I don't see how that would really make a difference to anyone reading their work.

Giulia Valtieri said...

This is denying someone's rights as a citizen. your job description cannot influence your right to an opinion. As long as the stories they cover are objective, they can have political views in their personal life. perhaps a political rally is a bit extreme, but it is hard for a person in today's society to oppress political opinions.