The Virginian Pilot’s public editor Joyce Hoffman laid out for readers in her Sunday column the changes to the rules for reporters:
The Virginian-Pilot’s ethics committee last week upped the ante on the sacrifices newsroom staffers must face when it added bite to its Code of Ethics and Professionalism. The panel broadly defined a provision that forbids “participation in public demonstrations for political causes” to incorporate mere presence at a campaign event. The new language leaves no room for off-duty reporters to mutely observe political gatherings.
So if you see a reporter at a political event, s/he must be there covering the event, not as an individual citizen. Some see this as an unnecessary restriction:
“Total objectivity is a self-delusional fantasy,” he [pop culture writer Malcolm Venable] said.
Others see it as OK:
“Overall, I don’t believe that being restricted from strictly political events that I am not covering makes me a lesser citizen or journalist, even if it is an annoyance,” [military affairs reporter Kate] Wiltrout said.
Hoffman disagrees with the new policy:
I wholeheartedly embraced these rigid guidelines as a political reporter in the 1980s – including the decision to forgo participation in primary elections in Pennsylvania rather than declare my political affiliation. Today, they strike me as overly restrictive, given my sense of the obligations a democracy places on every citizen and my desire to experience first-hand the history of our times.
Rather than restricting folks, I’d like to see more transparency, i.e., just tell me your biases up front and I’ll read what you write with that in mind. Support offshore drilling and writing about it? Tell me. Against universal healthcare and writing about it? Tell me. It’s not like your biases aren’t going to come through in the article.
This is where the MSM could learn something from the new media. We bloggers do that all the time – if I attend a Republican event, I’m going to report it through my Democratic eyes, despite any effort I might make to be unbiased. Likewise, if JR attends a Democratic event. Readers know where we’re coming from.
So what do you think? Do you agree with the new policy?