Monday, October 19, 2015

The Line Between Objectivity and Hate Speech

Rachel Hartwick

I always thought that I had to stifle my political opinions. Throughout high school, I was taught that in order to be a credible reporter, I had to be objective. That meant hiding my name on petitions, not publishing my political opinion and keeping a low profile when anyone talked about social issues.

I think when the Supreme Court ruling for same-sex marriage came around last summer, I began to realize it’s okay for journalists to share a liking with social issues. While some may see them as more left-leaning, other may see them as a basic human right.

In Meg Heckman’s blog Friends, Followers and Retweets: Journalistic Objectivity in the Digital Age, Heckman quotes an associate journalism professor saying, “I’ve inched toward the idea that if we’re transparent about our biases, we’re more credible than if we pretend we don’t have any biases.”

I think this is particularly true for me, as the women’s and LGBT issues beat reporter for The Post. It is against Post policy for me to participate in any rallies or protests. However, simply admitting that, yes, I believe in women’s reproductive health and yes, I believe that same-sex couples should have all the rights as other couples—is a given. Although I believe these are basic human rights that shouldn’t even really be a debate, they are. And because these issues can sometimes be very sensitive, as they are about groups of people who have previously been highly oppressed, it’s important that their beat reporter has a grasp on intersectionality and isn’t out to paint the LGBT community in bad taste.

Photo by Tessa Brediger for The Post 

Another idea that comes into question is getting all sides of the story. If I am writing an in-depth piece concerning an issue that LGBT folks deal with, ethically, should I be reaching out to anti-gay organizations, church organizations, etc? Depending on the story, today, I probably wouldn’t. The Post received a lot of backlash lately after attempting to be transparent when publishing an anti-LGBT letter that qualified by a man affiliated with a hate group.

But what if I’m reporting on an issue such as homelessness, or pay equity? Do I report based solely on the issue brought up by liberals, or reach out to their republican counter-opinions that may be hurtful? This is why the media has a bias. VICE News or Huffington Post most likely will not, but Fox News may focus the story solely around the counter-opinion. Most people may just agree that's the way the media works. Huffington Post has no shame in posting a video poking fun at Donald Trump for saying China over and over, just as Fox News doesn't care that a Hillary Clinton "cyber mess" headline is on the front page of their website.

While some stations attempt to be completely transparent, sometimes, I don’t think it’s quite possible. When achieving objectivity, I have to agree with Heckman's view in that sometimes, it's best to simply be transparent. We may be journalists, but that doesn't mean we don't have a political opinion. It's our job to participate as citizens of this country, and that doesn't end simply because we are journalists. 

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