Journalists share their views on Obama's support for gay marriage

Did you say “Yay”? Tweet out a “hurrah”? Did you pass along a funny joke or link to a partisan headline like “Obama declares war on traditional America” or a story that declared the president’s announcement “A victory.”

Journalists everywhere balanced on that tightrope Wednesday as Twitter and Facebook exploded with news of President Obama’s declaration that he believes gay couples should be allowed to marry. Many wanted to post a headline that reflects their beliefs, or shout out an opinion. Some did, like Tina Brown, the editor of Newsweek and The Daily Beast who Tweeted: “Much joy at the Beast about Obama's gay history moment. A historic day.”

Others posted links to straight news stories or non-partisan analysis. And many of us just lurked, hesitant to join the conversation, knowing that it’s hard to say anything about gay marriage without revealing your opinion.

In the wake of that hesitation, I hear Jay Rosen decrying the “view from nowhere.”

It’s likely that almost every one, journalists included, had a strong reaction to Obama’s interview. Certainly more and more journalists believe that on this issue, a public point of view is acceptable.

After all, 50 percent of Americans support the legal right to marry for gays and lesbians. The president of the United States standing in favor of this seems like it makes it even more palatable.

Yet the way you frame this issue -- as religious, political or civil rights -- puts you in a camp. Of course gay marriage could be placed in any or all three of those categories, but the one you put first tilts your hand.

Whether you voice your reaction publicly, on Facebook or in any other forum, has more to do with what your boss expects and whom you want to consume your work.

Many newsroom standards gurus are walking around right now reminding folks of long-standing policies that discourage journalists from weighing in on politically divisive issues they may have to cover.

So rather than arguing for a view from nowhere, I’d like to re-frame the opposite of the view from somewhere. Let's call it the conduit for all viewpoints. For many newsrooms, that’s the goal. This is not to suggest that false parity is the alternative. It's not necessary for individual stories to represent all viewpoints, however a newsroom that wants to serve a diverse audience on this topic must be committed to representing a diversity of perspectives over time. If everyone on staff has a view from somewhere, the only audience you’ll reach are those people standing in that same location.

Many newsrooms are perfectly happy doing just that. I suspect that the audience for the Daily Beast shares Brown’s enthusiasm. Her Newsweek audience may respond differently.

This need for diversity is particularly difficult to grasp if you live in a place where gay marriage is generally supported or opposed; or, if you only associate with people who share one view or the other. It’s also very difficult to commit to diverse views if you believe that gay marriage is only a civil rights issue. Of course it is a civil rights issue. But it’s also a political issue in a presidential election year. And at least half of the citizens of the United States don’t believe it’s a civil rights issue at all.

For more and more journalists, this isn’t even a conversation. Their newsrooms and their audiences are decidedly partisan, and this issue of gay marriage isn’t even debatable. Someday, we may look more like Europe, where most news is delivered through a philosophical point of view.

Right now we are not there. Instead, we are in a period of dramatic transition.

If you work for a newsroom that wants to reach an audience with diverse beliefs on gay marriage, instead of resigning yourself to the view from nowhere, try embracing the notion of being a conduit for everyone.

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    Kelly McBride

    Kelly McBride is a writer, teacher and one of the country’s leading voices when it comes to media ethics. She has been on the faculty of The Poynter Institute since 2002 and is now its vice president.


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