Objective To A Fault

Did you hear about this public radio producer fired for serving as a spokesperson at a protest? I’m not sure that makes much sense. She hosted Soundprint, a documentary program that, by the look of its website, is not exactly focused on the news of the day. Also hosted an opera program that NPR distributes.

As a reporter I expect to not be able to voice my opinion as a spokesperson for a protest or a political organization, (One could argue I could have  more impact by covering a protest or a politician than I ever could by supporting them…) but I don’t believe every member of a news organization should be bound in the same way. Should the arts and entertainment editor be restricted from attending a political rally? I don’t see why not. They won’t be covering it the next day. Should freelancers who contribute sports stories be expected to keep their lawn clean of political signs? That makes no sense.

I know a news photographer who is an avowed liberal. Does that mean he should be blacklisted? No. His photos are fantastic, whether they are of Republican candidates or protesters. At some point political leanings cease to matter. This producers, it seems, was not a reporter, and was not someone who should have been expected to keep a low profile. I just don’t see what she did wrong.

I have yet to understand just what role NPR had, but it is the latest news connected to the organization raises concerns. Journalists in the newsroom need to be held to high standards of objectivity (such as it is), but the line stops there. Get outside the newsroom and you should be free to express your views. I have yet to see anything that explains why this producer was on the wrong side of that equation.

Update: Here is an article that lays out NPR’s position a bit better. I think it’s a stretch.

Update Update: Here is the NPR ombudsman’s take. I still don’t get it. Ethics policies limiting employee behavior should extend beyond the newsroom. Media companies should be purged of political opinion, they just shouldn’t go on air as “objective journalism.”

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