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Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Why can't we be friends? Journalists are people, too.Posted Wednesday, March 25, 2009, at 12:58 PM
In journalism school, we spent many hours discussing the ethical practices and behaviors of professional journalists. Sometimes it felt tedious and redundant -- the real world was so far away. Now that I am practicing the craft, however, I have observed scenarios involving moral decision-making. But, let me be clear: I am not accusing anyone of wrongdoing or dishonesty, nor have I witnessed anything inappropriate. I am just interested in thinking about where the slippery slope begins, and I am blogging about it because I support transparency in journalism.
One dilemma that occurs to me, especially in a town the size of Marshall, is how to reconcile an involvement in public life with the responsibility to be objective about that life. (Of course, most journalists acknowledge that, though objectivity is truly unattainable, it is still worth striving for). In school, I was taught to shy away from political activity. So, you won't see any campaign posters in my lawn this April, though my Facebook status is a different story.
However, I am active in a community organization -- the Marshall Philharmonic -- and I have written about others in it. I have hung out with the librarian and the assistant prosecuting attorney; my landlord and one of my relatives are both members of public organizations. If and when I cover them, I do not feel like I give these people special treatment in the news, but if a big scandal broke, perhaps it would be better for another staff member to cover it.
There is also the issue of rapport with sources. If you know publishing a story will anger a frequent source, do you do it anyway and make your job harder in the future? I thought of this last night while watching President Obama's press conference. The White House Press Corps is an elite group of journalists, most of whom the President knows by first name. They must decide whether to be nice to him, which could make him more likely to talk, or to be aggressive, which could make him uncooperative. To a lesser degree, those of us at the Democrat-News have to decide this as well, and it can become a discussion of means versus ends.
In a small town, I believe these issues of personal involvement and familiarity extend to many others besides the newspaper staff. Although journalists and public officials are not held to exactly the same standards, they are both expected to be truthful in their work, with the public interest at heart. So, just because the policeman was in your high school graduating class, should he not give you a ticket? What about the distribution of public funds to favored individuals or groups? (By the way, these are just hypothetical situations).
Everyone wants to be liked, and everyone wants to protect and support friends and family. But the news and the law are not about feelings, and sometimes I think we need to be reminded of that.
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Sydney is a former staff writer for the Democrat-News. She received degrees from University of Missouri in both music and magazine journalism. She played oboe with the Marshall Philharmonic Orchestra and the Marshall Municipal Band while she was in Marshall.