Civic Involvement

Freedom of expression for journalists.

It is a paradox that journalists are often discouraged or outright prevented from exercising full freedom of expression in their personal lives. Many reporters do not participate in civic or political organizations because they fear losing their jobs or being scorned by their peers. Some editors and managers even discourage such simple forms of expression as bumperstickers or political T-shirts. Some have even discouraged their reporters from voting.

We should not be forced to give up our involvement in civic or political life simply because we work in media. If we really place such a high value on the First Amendment, then how can we deny ourselves the right to free expression as citizens? We kid ourselves if we purport to have no biases, and think that having no civic involvement proves this. Besides which, attempting to conceal our beliefs by "laying low" is unfair to the public. If we are active in our communities then our viewers/listeners/readers can decern our possible biases from our civic activity, and take those biases into account.

Being active in our communities and in the goings-on of our country actually makes reporters' coverage better because we are more "in touch"! We know the movers and shakers in a community. We are more likely to cover issues that are important to our audience. We are more knowledgable. And the more you expose yourself to different kinds of people, the more you will learn and the higher your consciousness will be. To be a good reporter, you have to like and be interested in people. This cannot be developed through social isolation.

Conflict of interest.

In cases where journalists are active in causes or issues they're supposed to cover, they should recuse themselves from the story, or else make double-sure that their affiliations have not been concealed from the public. In the latter instance, reporters must take even greater care to cover all sides of the story and to be honest. While many journalists look down their noses at reporters covering issues they are openly interested in, it is certain that few will have as great an knowledge or grasp of that issue as those involved in it. We should recognize such coverage for what it is-- a point of view. It is not the only view, and by no means should the news become a playground for reporter's opinions, but prohibiting us from being involved in our communities does not make our coverage objective. It only allows us to cloak our predjudices in subtlety-- passing them off as fact-- instead of getting them out in the open.