A tweet from a panel discussion last night reignited the running debate over whether it’s OK for journalists to express opinions:
I was tweeting a comment from Associated Press race and ethnicity writer Jesse Holland, a panelist at Diversity 2016: Race and Gender on the Campaign Trail at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication.
As I expected, others reacted to Holland’s view:
I blogged my views on journalists expressing their opinions in 2012, and led a Digital First Media group that offered advice to our colleagues on expressing opinions, so I won’t repeat those views here. But a few updated thoughts:
I think journalism (and our readers/viewers/users/communities) is well served by a variety of approaches to expression of opinions. As critical as I have been about the notion of objectivity, I like that some journalism organizations practice neutral reporting, however flawed it might be. Neutrality is probably essential for the AP, which serves a wide range of clients and would lose much of its member and client base if it veered much from that approach.
I also don’t think that the only alternative to neutrality is advocacy. I think journalism organizations should remain independent of politicians and political organizations, even if they express opinions and endorse candidates. I think we should experiment with ways to practice neutral reporting while being more transparent about our opinions. I’d rather see analysis and commentary that share opinions and conclusions about the matters we cover without advocating for specific positions.
Update: Jay Rosen responded to this post with the tweets below. I agree. As noted in my 2012 post, David Broder was the Washington Post’s senior political reporter for many years, writing a weekly Sunday column that bolstered, rather than hurting, his credibility. I wrote a weekly column when I was a religion reporter for the Des Moines Register, and heard that it helped my credibility. People didn’t need to speculate about possible bias. They knew my opinions and saw that I provided fair and accurate news coverage of people with whom I had disagreements.
Journalism ethics codes call on us to seek and report the truth, and sometimes commentary (or even humor) can be the best way to do that. For instance, I don’t think any neutral reporters did a better job of covering Chris Christie’s awkward Super Tuesday appearance with Donald Trump than Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post or Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: