Should journalists vote?

Req: A, N

Robert Niles asks and answers this question in a piece for the Online Journalism Review this week.

Readers want to know what they’re getting. If you are a writer promising them news, well then, the information that you deliver had better be accurate, complete and fresh to your audience. That’s how you build credibility and, over time, audience loyalty.

One of the ways that the journalism industry has tried over the past few decades to reassure the public that its information is accurate is by restricting the political activity of its reporters. But does that work? Does telling reporters not to campaign, not to contribute, or even not to vote, really help build readership?

If recent trends in newspaper circulation offer evidence, the answer is “no.” But it’s hard to separate political restrictions on reporters from the other variables affecting people’s decision whether or not to read a paper.

[Continue reading Should Journalists Vote]

For my part, asking journalists not to vote is asking them to do two things: 1) shirk the responsibility all citizens have to vote in a representative democracy; and 2) cover up the fact that they have an opinion because that might alter the way the public interprets the news.

Arguments can still be made in favor of this. Perhaps the fact that a journalist does not formally take sides serves democracy better than would his or her one vote. In that case, the responsible thing to do would be to not vote. Perhaps the newspaper itself would be harmed by allowing the public to know the voting preferences of journalists (one’s party registration is, after all, public information). In that case, I could see why owners wouldn’t want journalists to reveal their political allegiances.

In the final analysis though, journalists do have opinions. They do support some candidates and oppose others. Letting the public have some idea of these positions may well be painful for journalism in the short term. However, I’ve never been one to believe that important truths should be hidden. And the political sensibilities of those providing citizens with political information is an important truth.

1 Response to “Should journalists vote?”

  1. 1 carlcaceres February 25, 2008 at 12:35 am

    Journalists should be able to exercise their fundamental right to vote just as any registered voter should. Journalists must try to be objective and as careful as possible when writing about politics, but pure objectivity is never possible because journalists have opinions like everyone else. Journalists should vote but keep their opinions and candidate preferences to themselves unless they can explain their viewpoints in as objective a manner as possible fueled by logic and not by personal biases. It may even be the case that journalists (because of their expected knowledge of the news, issues and candidates by way of their profession) not only should vote but need to as part of the informed electorate. The trickier question is whether or not journalists should publish their voting preference.

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This blog is maintained by Dr. Matthew M. Reavy as a service to journalism students at the University of Scranton.



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