When it comes to divisive issues like gay marriage or abortion, I’ve got an opinion on it, some pretty strong opinions, actually. Same with climate change, legalizing marijuana, and Donald Trump. My closest friends know exactly where I stand on these issues. But for the greater part of nearly three decades as a journalist, I very carefully kept those opinions discreet and did everything in my power to keep bias out of my public and professional work. That’s a skill I’m very proud of – knowing how to set aside my own opinions and give equal play to all sides of an issue whenever possible, respecting facts and truth, even if I don’t personally like the facts or the truth. That’s the social contract you make with the public when you become a journalist. But does it have to come at a price, renouncing all things that reflect your thoughts and beliefs as an individual for the duration of your career? I believe things are changing.
When I began my journalism career in the late 80’s, it was fairly easy to check your personal biases and opinions at the door when you went to work each day. We didn’t have things like social media, smart phones and other outlets that make our lives an open book, 24-7, like they do today. Journalists are now faced with a difficult balancing act. Professionally, they are expected to maintain social media pages to stay relevant, current and engaged with viewers and readers; they often develop followers on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook – which is exactly what their employers want. Thoughtful commentary from a reporter re-tweeting or sharing a news item isn’t unheard of. Sometimes what a journalist chooses to share, even without a comment, can give you an idea of the issues they personally find troubling or important. Of course they may report any given story fairly, but the personal touch of re-tweeting or sharing through their own social media account offers an enticing potential for subjectivity, or at least the perception of it.
I can tell you that journalists are human – they are not their jobs. Sometimes I want to join in on a thoughtful debate, put a statement bumper sticker on my car, volunteer for a political candidate I support, or attend a march with my friends just like everyone else, but until recently I’ve abstained. Can journalists be transparent about their personal opinions and feelings and still be fair and responsible journalists? It’s a delicate balance but I believe it’s possible. What I’ve agreed to do with my team at My Local News – Arizona is be a fair and responsible journalist while I’m working and representing my employer, but allow myself to have personal beliefs and opinions and participate in the causes I care about on my free time when I’m representing myself. It strikes a balance that allows me to engage in our democracy and be a part of it rather than just writing about it from the sidelines – or being forced to choose. What’s great about being an American is I’m free to do both. What’s great about working for My Local News – Arizona is my employer supports those freedoms – and for that I’m grateful.