Voting as a journalist: Obligation as a citizen or compromise of objectivity?Posted: February 15, 2012
Journalists students learn early on in their studies that applying objectivity is crucial within their line of work. A credible reporter strives to be as objective as possible in his or her assignments, from starting out gathering sources to finishing with submission to the editor. Objectivity means many things to journalists. It has been dissected and analyzed, sometimes in lengthy detail, in order to promote more objective journalistic practice.
However, despite all the public affairs journalists know regarding the pursuit of objectivity, there is not always one clear way for public affairs journalists to remain objective on a certain topic.
Such is the case of voting. Even in the SBJ, no protocol exists. How then, do we decide if it is reasonable to include voting with the lifestyle of an active journalists, without crossing over the boundaries of objectivity? Perhaps a little musing is in order.
One of several definitions that Dictionary.com offers for ‘objective‘ is ‘being the object of perception or thought; belonging to the object of thought rather than to the thinking.
Rather than to the thinking. For some journalists, this idea hits home harder than for others.
Wikipedia refers to opinion as normative analysis- what ought to be. Ought incorporates some level of individual perception. Thus, opinion, by nature, requires some facet of at least minimal thinking. One could perceive that objectivity has already been violated, simply by the execution of thinking to arrive at an opinion. Therein lies one reason why some journalists refrain from voting altogether. While they may have an opinion, they choose to suppress it rather than express their preferences in the polls. Die-hard neutralists.
On the other hand, some journalists feel that their right to exercise voting privileges is acceptable, as they are citizens as well. Often their votes and supportive reasoning are openly shared, or they retain absolute confidentiality regarding their vote, or even their political party affiliation.
Who is to say who is right and who is wrong? Public affairs journalists cannot be penalized for voting if they believe it is within their rights as objectivity seekers, neither for abstaining. There is more than one platform for basis of judgment. Journalists can only take into careful consideration the guidelines prescribed by the SBJ, and executive their voting decisions according to what they believe is the best of their professional ability.
As journalists, we maintain objectivity as our objective. Can we responsibly maintain voting as our prerogative, journalistically speaking, simultaneously? Are the values associated with each compatible, or conflicting?
The New York Times states that their ‘journalists do not take part in politics‘, but also specifies that journalists are still entitled to vote. Our active right to vote is constitutionally protected, and cannot be subject to any restrictions imposed by the government, corporations, or organizations.
Despite lack of regulations, should we take it upon ourselves as professionals to forgo our political motivations on election day? Is leaving the ballot blank a sacrifice we should feel obligated to make for the sake of neutrality? Or are we doing democracy a disservice by withholding our political figure preferences- one that would warrant our founding fathers to shake their heads?