Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blogging and the "unbiased" journalist

Clearly, blogs are the way of the future. Anyone who's anyone in the communications world has one, or should. It's a way to get your name out there, to get a following, to express your viewpoint and showcase your writing and persuasive skills. Plus, blogs are a way to empower citizen journalists-- they provide an effective communication medium to the average person, who previously had no voice in the media.


But if you want to go into journalism, in which fair and balanced -- and even objective (see #5)-- writing is highly valued, there is a line that can be crossed when blogging personal opinion. But where is that line?

As someone who is very opinionated when it comes to environmental and animal rights issues, and who has worked with activist groups in the past (a lot of PR-related work actually, organizing rallies and fundraisers, etc), I've always struggled to keep the journalist and activist parts of my life as separate as possible, to maintain credibility.




And then along comes this blog. I wanted it to be good. I wanted it to be focused. I wanted to write about something I'm passionate about. So I chose to write about my environmental struggles. Now, I'm all about exposing my biases and dealing with them upfront, when I work as a journalist. I don't try to hide my views or background. But this blog highlights them in a way that's hard to ignore.



So how can I maintain credibility in the journalistic world while blogging all about my biases? Even though the idea of completely non-biased and objective journalism has for the most part been de-bunked in this day and age, I think journalists should still be leaning toward that end of the spectrum as much as possible. Does this mean that I’m not qualified to cover environmental issues as a reporter? Take Saturday’s climate rally—I was there covering it for the Projector. But if I hadn’t been, I havemight been there as a supporter. Is that a problem? I truly don’t think my views affected the way I covered the event. But others may disagree. I think I’m intelligent enough to know how to report on an event responsibly, despite my views. I didn't cheer or join in protest chants. But, I pitched that story because I felt it was important—is that unethical?


Of all the questions I’ve been posing, that one I think I can answer: no, it isn’t. To be part of the media means to have significant power. It’s the power to have a hand in shaping what your audience sees, and thus, how they view the world. Part of that power is simply choosing what gets covered. If I think a story is important, not only is it not unethical to report on it (as long as I’m not involved in it, of course), but it’s my duty as a journalist committed to serving the public. However, it is imperative that journalists ensure that their biases do not seep unnoticed into their writing. I know I’m hyper-sensitive to this in my own work, which is good. It’s also important to make sure that I treat the subjects I’m interested in on an equal footing with other topics that may interest others.


Journalists have opinions, it’s not a secret. Many respected journalists have blogs and columns where they express their views and arguments. I’m hoping that as long as I do so in a respectful manner, and stay within the realm of logic, that my credibility as a journalist won’t be harmed. I just hope I can do it properly.


I've found a very helpful blog post by American journalist Lindsay Beyerstein that talks about how strong ideological orientations can sometimes be a benefit to uncovering 'truth', and how dispassion should not always be the ideal.


But I’m still searching for the big answer to this dilemma. Comments are very welcome!


Update: This evening I spoke to my very intelligent friend (who has worked as a journalist) about this, and here's her take: All journalists have opinions. But the line is crossed when you get so involved in an issue that one side of a story no longer feels comfortable talking to you-- that's when you lose your ability to report properly. I think that makes a lot of sense. So maybe I shouldn't be participating in protests, but I can still have my views-- fair compromise I think.


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