Decisions at Gannett, ESPN raise questions about which rights journalists should be free to exercise

Reuters | ESPN.com
Earlier this week, editors and publishers at several Gannett papers said staffers who signed a petition calling for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s recall violated the company’s ethics code and would be disciplined. ESPN, meanwhile, dropped a ban on staff posting photos of themselves wearing hoodies in solidarity with Trayvon Martin.

Both instances raise the question: What rights should journalists be free to exercise?

Reuters’ Jack Shafer said Gannett staffers should be free to sign recall petitions, and he criticized the company’s response. “I suspect that what really irritates the Gannett bosses,” he said, “is not the deed but the visibility of the deed.” He went on to ask: “Instead of suppressing the political lives of journalists, why not allow that which is now covert to become overt and give readers more information to assess coverage?”
Poynter’s Kelly McBride said it’s best when journalists can find ways to cover stories rather than becoming part of them. In a piece she wrote as part of the Poynter Review Project, McBride said that when journalists become part of the story, they lose their ability to tell an independent story.

“This is a basic tenet of journalism that is becoming lost in this day of social media – also known as slacktivism,” she wrote. “It feels good to join a popular movement by slapping a bumper sticker on your car or wearing your heart on your sleeve. But with a little work, and a little self-restraint, journalists can do so much more.”

Related: Live chat today: Should journalists show support for Trayvon Martin, ask for Scott Walker’s recall?

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  • Anonymous

    I disagree with Ms. Tenore’s take on Ms. McBride’s judgmental interpretation of the ESPN hoodie avatar issue. Especially when she exhibits the same flaws she accuses the staff of ESPN of commiitting.

    I asnswer her at length at the linked article.

    I also agree with Jack Shafer about Gannett.

    To me, it’s not the signing of petitions or the hoodie avatars that make for journalistic bias. It is the work itself. We all have beliefs. We all have our work. Whether we show evidence of our beliefs outside of our work, we are still bound to do the best work we can as professionally as we can. All these rules do is keep the management and business end of the media from offending the powers that be.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been out of the business almost ten years. But back in the day I can only remember one reporter who had to be reminded of this ethical issue.

  • Anonymous

    Old-fashioned newsman here. I never sign any petition or express strong political views online.

  • Anonymous

    Many of today’s journalists have indeed lost their way.