Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Shafer: Let's make journalists' political views public

From a column by Reuters media columnist Jack Shafer about a move by some of Gannett's 10 Wisconsin dailies to discipline employees for signing a recall-the-governor petition, an alleged violation of the company's ethics policy:

In a just and utopian world, news organizations would permit modest political activism by journalists – campaign contributions, placards on their lawns, bumper stickers on their cars, attendance at rallies, even the signing of recall petitions, etc. – as long as the journalists were willing to declare it. This proposal isn’t as radical as it sounds. At the core of the current journalistic codes is the notion that judging journalism requires us to judge the conduct of the journalists producing it. Instead of suppressing the political lives of journalists, why not allow that which is now covert to become overt and give readers more information to assess coverage?


  1. Pamphlets, broadsheets and newspapers have always been printed to influence political views and consolidate public opinion. When Gene Pulliam owned the Indianapolis Star he had a rule that no story featuring a Kennedy would be slotted on the front page. Pulliam papers also always employed a rat fucker to attack politicians Gene didn't like. If you disagreed with his politics you were place on the copy desk or fired.

  2. News orgs as Shafer attests, should be judged by their content. If the reporting is fair and impartial, enough said.
    Those who claim papers are biased are always going to make that claim and the rest don't care as long as the crossword puzzle shows up on the same page everyday.

  3. I think it's long past time to drop the canard that journalists are impartial. They should be professional, yes -- but objectivity is a goal, not a fact, in the human experience.

    It seems rather conceited that anyone would seriously believe that one's education and life experiences had made one "objective."

    Again, please don't confuse "objective" with being professional. A professional attempts to be objective, not necessarily achieving such an ironically relative term.

    But I don't think a journalist's political affiliation, again speaking of the professional, needs be made public, any more than I think the cop on the street needs to know someone's voting record.

    After all, first, bias is not hard to detect in a sloppily written story, someone who maybe chose the wrong career; second, one should never rely on just one source in comprehending anything. There is no objectivity.

  4. I disagree. I have plenty of gripes with Gannett, but I thought the best thing they ever did was issue the ethics policy. (Gee, it didn't cost money.)

    Newspapers, and yes Gannett newspapers, could have distinguished themselves as the only place to get fairly impartial and thoughtful news in a media climate now dominated by the Fox/MSNBC/talk radio noise. Talk to real people, and you'll find that many read USAT just for that reason.

    But the corporation just kept cutting, couldn't see its vision, and the majority of journalists are (can we be honest here?) liberals by DNA. Yes, the Internet is killing us, the company is killing us, but we lost a lot of readers years ago because of our bias. No one in media wants to talk about that, and few former readers are going to bother to tell you even if you call back to survey them. No one wants to discuss politics with a stranger.

    If we are going to be "open" about our views, then let's just go farther and put them on the newspaper website, like Patch.

  5. This was in a Wall Street Journal column Monday:

    Transparency for Me, but Not for Thee
    "Last week, the Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team broke a story that appeared in The [Appleton] Post-Crescent, exposing 29 circuit court judges who signed petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker," boasts Genia Lovett, the paper's president and publisher. "It was a story we were proud to bring to you. It was watchdog journalism in its finest sense, a role we take seriously."

    Just one problem:

    Today, in the interest of full transparency, we are informing you that 25 Gannett Wisconsin Media journalists, including nine at The P-C, also signed the Walker recall petitions. It was wrong, and those who signed were in breach of Gannett's Principles of Ethical Conduct for Newsrooms.

    There follows a lot of self-important verbiage about journalistic ethics, The folks at Gannett turn out to have a "core belief" in "journalistic neutrality," which makes the incident "disheartening." You will be relieved to hear that "it has caused us to examine deeply how this happened" and that the Gannetters "are now in the process of addressing discipline and presenting supplemental ethics training for all news employees."

    But this is priceless: "First and foremost, we decided to inform our readers and be as open as possible. We have decided not to name the employees."

    So when journalists expose improper political activity by nonjournalists, that's "watchdog journalism in its finest sense." When journalists themselves are caught engaging in improper political activity, they get to remain anonymous and claim they're being "as open as possible." If you think there's something wrong here, you probably just need "supplemental ethics training."

  6. I don't think the judges or the journos signing the petition are newsworthy in any regard.

    This is what I would expect of a Rupert Murdoch WSJ editorial. It starts with the biased canard that signing a petition that may be motivated by opposing Walker's pro-corporation, anti-union agenda is subversive or treasonous, giving need to "out" those who signed it.

    I had hoped we in journalism would have been done with that in the '50s when Edward R. Morrow put Sen. McCarthy in perspective.

  7. 3:51 PM - LOL. Easy on the Kool-Aid, Comrade.


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