BREAKING: I’m a Democrat.
By saying this, I have committed a horrible journalistic crime. Due to the need to remain impartial, journalists don’t usually publicize their political views. They don’t volunteer for political campaigns. They don’t display candidate swag. Many register as nonpartisans. Admitting that you belong to one party or another is tantamount to heresy.
But should it be? I don’t think so. And perhaps, as a politically involved individual, I’m rather biased on this account. But that’s the point: everyone is biased, regardless of what they say. Show me a person devoid of opinions, and I’ll show you a liar. As journalists, we try to present the news in the most objective way possible, and that’s a good thing, because people need to know the facts without them being colored by campaign staffs and super PACs. But even the details that we choose to include in a story indicate what we personally believe to be important. The way we punctuate quotations adds emphasis where we want it to.
I do a lot of political reporting. I like political reporting. As a student of political science, I like to think I have a decent grasp on political issues and can thus help explain them to non-political science people. And every time I write an article, I check to make sure I’ve included praises and criticisms of both candidates that are based on their actions, not my viewpoints projected onto their actions. I check to make sure that the general flow of political discourse in the media and in academia would agree with me (although the two are sometimes not reconcilable). I don’t want to be biased; I want to tell the truth and not tell it slant–but the world is what we perceive it to be, and we can never completely remove our perceptions from the picture. I am certainly not exempt from this. And I believe it’s okay to have a bias as long as you work to minimize it and as long you make it clear upfront where you’re coming from.
So I’m a Democrat. I’m not going to hide it. When I go to cover the election night party next week, I’ll wear my TKS t-shirt rather than an Obama one, but I’m still going to cheer loudly when Obama wins (crossing my fingers, although most polls agree with me on this one; sorry, GOP). The minute I’m done reporting, I’m going to Cherry Street to celebrate with my fellow Dems. It’s like wearing different hats: you take them on and off as you please, but the ones you don’t wear remain in your closet, still a part of your wardrobe. Hiding them doesn’t change the fact that they’re there.
When you’re reading an article, know what hats the writer owns. Know, but don’t think that the presence of a political one inhibits the writer’s ability to convey useful information. As humans, we all have a perspective, a vantage point from which we see the world. And that cornucopia of perspectives is an excellent thing–not a skeleton in the closet.