Robert Vickers: ‘The wall of opinion and hard news’ fell long before he endorsed Romney
Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News politics writer Robert Vickers published a column Friday about why he’s voting for Mitt Romney. In a chat with readers, he talked about the decision, still unusual for a newspaper reporter, to publicly disclose his vote. It wasn’t a suicide mission, apparently: In the chat, a reader asked whether he would remain with the paper after it reduces staff and print frequency next year. “I’ve been asked to stay on and have agreed to do so,” Vickers wrote. Some more excerpts:

I wrestled with whether or not to share it, but I felt the thought process of someone who has greater access to the political machinations than everyday citizens was important to share. …

I’ve protected my personal political views for my entire career. Even close friends have had a hard time trying to figure out my personal views. But the journalistic/political landscape has changed and I reckon this is a step toward existing in that landscape.

I made a call to a top state Democratic Party official last night to make them aware of the Op-Ed and would have done it with the GOP if the roles were reversed. But I’ve worked diligently to establish a level of credibility with sources Democrat and Republican. And while I’m sure I’ll be having some interesting conversations in the coming weeks, I don’t doubt their professionalism and don’t believe they’ll doubt mine. …

The wall of opinion and hard news was blow open long before my piece today. I can’t say that I’m fully comfortable with it, but as I mentioned before, the landscape has changed and traditional journalistic institutions must change with it. …

I have long been amused by the notion some hold that the media is intentionally biased. There’s hardly enough organization in a given newsroom to get a newspaper out each day, let alone conspire with some broader agenda. Now reporters and editors have opinions, but we are also trained to do our jobs factually. I think the bias label comes from people reacting badly to facts about their positions that aren’t flattering.

Related: Patriot-News managing editor explains why they published it: “Our initial response was no.”

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  • Gary Warner

    I used to read Richard Aregood at the Daily News for his opinions. I wanted him to tell me who should “take the hot squat.” Michael Vickers is supposed to be a reporter talking with as many people as possible about why the election is going the way it is – I have absolutely no interest in his own personal soul searching.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Kinchen, with all due respect to you and your profession, journalism as we know it in 2012 is different than what it was in 1966. I think it’s a travesty what Fox is doing to “news” as I know it but this is the new era. In the same vein, I think news organizations (especially dailies) have to reinvent themselves if they’re going to survive into the next generation. For too long the news industry stuck to the tried and true…and got caught blindsided by the internet. Journalists may be predominantly liberal in political view but they’re very conservative when it comes to changing their business model. Many in the business are betting on the strategy that today’s reporters not only need to “report,” they also need to connect with readers. If that means revealing their personal thoughts and beliefs, better to try than to not have tried at all…

  • Anonymous

    I thought Vickers was a columnist? To me, that’s different from a pure “reporter” …

  • Sean P Carr

    I think Vickers’ column was poorly reasoned and badly researched. But I will absolutely defend his choice of action. I think this piece will only help, not hurt, the substance of his work and his career prospects.

    In my first years as a reporter, I would have agreed that he should have kept mum. But that was 15 years ago, in a very different media world. After a long shift to government and political work, I took advantage of an unexpected and welcome opportunity to return to being a reporter four years ago. I soon realized that I had a “Google problem.” I had a record, both in service to candidates and under my own name, of outright partisanship. I could either try to pretend that history didn’t exist — not an option, really — or I could be fully open about it when conducting my reporting. I’m a pretty progressive guy, though not with straight-line views, covering a conservative industry (insurance and financial services). Rather than being stand-offish, most sources have found comfort both in my honesty and in knowing where I was coming from. I can have opinions, be honest about them and still be fair in my work. I put my integrity on the page and on the screen.

    Fairness is a journalistic virtue. Objectivity is a myth — and a relatively new journalistic invention, at that. In deluded efforts to apply objectivity, too often mainstream news outlets bend over backwards to provide generic, commodified “view from nowhere” stories and toothless “on the one hand, on the other hand” false equivalence.

    Vickers took a bold step — and a more honest one than many of his colleagues and competitors.

  • David M. Kinchen

    As a reporter/editor since January 1966, with lengthy tours of duty at The Milwaukee Sentinel (almost 10 years) and the Los Angeles Times (more than 14 years) I think reporters should keep their political views to themselves. An exception would be an opinion piece, but no revealing your voting record. A reporter I respect (but can’t recall his name!) once said journalists covering politics shouldn’t even vote.

  • Anonymous

    i second that. besides, readers who themselves regularly go through the process-of-elimination issue when trying to decide who to vote for do not have to be told by a “news” reporter what the process was like for him. they already know.

  • Richard Aregood

    Self-justifying hogwash. Reporters report. Their credibility depends on being seen as honest brokers, not individually “branded” opinionators. As my old managing editor, J. Ray Hunt, once put it, “Nobody cares about you, kid.” They do care about an honest, well-reported story.