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

Reuters |

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?

  • Mallary Jean Tenore

    As managing editor of The Poynter Institute’s website,, I report on the media news industry, edit the site’s How To section, and moderate the site's live chats. I also help handle the site's social media efforts, and teach social media sessions on the side.


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