Voting as a journalist: Obligation as a citizen or compromise of objectivity?

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 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.

And they do, with a variety of outcomes, as some journalists vote, some choose not to, and some explore the topic nuetrally.

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?


2 Comments on “Voting as a journalist: Obligation as a citizen or compromise of objectivity?”

  1. sutlive2 says:

    I believe an individual who is a journalist can keep their objectiveness and their political ideology separate. Journalists need to keep their opinion separate from their articles and news reporting but they must vote also.

    People cannot help to make their community, nation and the world a better place if they do not vote. This obligation falls not only on citizens but also on journalists.

    I believe that journalist should seek the truth, serve citizens and be objective. If they have a problem with voting as a conflict of interest they can still vote and just not talk about it with anyone. Maybe journalists should not write articles about the candidates and nominees that they vote for even if it is a candidate or nominee in their beat. Do beats have two journalists sometimes?

    Samuel Sutlive

    P.S. I would be careful about referencing Wikipedia and using it as a source. I will use Wikipedia to get URLs for other sites and articles but I try to avoid using Wikipedia articles as a reference or source. I hope that helps.

  2. cailinob says:

    I tend to believe that there should be a firm distinction between private and public life. Publicly, yes, journalists should be completely unbiased. No journalist should actively promote an affiliation to any political party. Of course, a certain amount of the impartiality should naturally leak over into one’s private life — because a journalist should be trained to take both sides of any argument into consideration naturally. However, human nature suggests that, on certain issues if not all, everybody will reach some sort of personal conclusion.

    Voting is anonymous. As long as a journalists vote is kept anonymous and no amount of political or other bias is brought into the work place, there should be no problem with journalists voting. In fact, it could be argued that journalists should be of the most informed voters since we are trained to gather all the facts and view both sides of a situation with equal objectivity.

    Publicly, however, a journalist should strive to remain as objective as possible at all times.

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