Wednesday, August 15, 2007

When is not OK for news personnel to express themselves, and what's political?

This memo from the executive editor of The Seattle Times, posted by Romenesko, raises questions about journalism ethics. When is it not OK for news personnel to express their personal opinion? What is political opinion? And -- adding for discussion a hypothetical extreme: If a reporter is covering a high-school basketball game, does she refrain from singing the National Anthem at the beginning?


View Forum Post
Topic: Miscellaneous items
Date/Time: 8/15/2007 6:27:28 PM
Title: Seattle Times editor elaborates on cheering item
Posted By: Jim Romenesko

Seattle Times executive editor David Boardman's memo to staff:

(and the occasional rant)

Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007

Posted by Dave on Wednesday, August 15, 2007 at 12:01 PM

My Raves admonition on politically based cheering in the newsroom has ignited the predictable flame-throwing in the blogosphere, particularly from the portside. Allow me to riff a bit further on that, and on my reasoning.

First, the reaction from such people as Dan Savage (whom, by the way, I personally respect and whose work I generally enjoy) and the Huffington Post crowd brings to mind one of my favorite quotes, from Democratic political strategist James Carville, who borrowed from Mark Twain: "Americans these days use the media the way a drunk uses a lamp post: for support, not illumination." The postings nearly everywhere speak not to the fundamental issues around newsroom decorum, but instead spring from one's place on the spectrum of Bush/Rove "Bad" or Bush/Rove "Good."

I ask you all to leave your personal politics at the front door for one simple reason: A good newsroom is a sacred and magical place in which we can and should test every assumption, challenge each other's thinking, ask the fundamental questions those in power hope we will overlook.

If we wore our politics on our sleeves in here, I have no doubt that in this and in most other mainstream newsrooms in America, the majority of those sleeves would be of the same color: blue. Survey after survey over the years have demonstrated that most of the people who go into this business tend to vote Democratic, at least in national elections. That is not particularly surprising, given how people make career decisions and that social service and activism is a primary driver for many journalists.

But if we allowed our news meetings to evolve into a liberal latte klatch, I have no doubt that a pathological case of group-think would soon set in. One of the advances of which I.m most proud over the years is our willingness to question and challenge each other as we work to give our readers the most valuable, meaningful journalism we can.

The result: A newspaper that is known nationally for aggressive watchdog and investigative reporting, without fear or favor. From a Democratic United States senator (Brock Adams) to our region's biggest employer (Boeing) to a large advertiser (Nordstrom) to our school districts and courts and police, we have confronted them all with tough questions to which they had no good answers. The result has been a better community, laws changed, lives saved.

It.s not about "balance," which is a false construct. It isn't even about "objectivity," which is a laudable but probably unattainable goal. It is about independent thinking and sound, facts-based journalism -- the difference between what we do and the myopic screed that is passed off as "advocacy" journalism these days.

Readers notice. In contrast to much of our industry, we are achieving great readership results both in print and online. Our page views to are up almost 40 percent year over year, and at this point we are actually selling more newspapers on a typical day than we did last year.

Thanks for listening, and for all of your amazing effort that keeps this the magical place it is.


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