When journalists protest

It’s not really hard to understand why some members of the public don’t see the problem with journalists taking an active role in a news story, as long as they’re taking part on their side.

But it’s surprising that some journalists don’t see the perception problem doing so presents…

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Caitlin Curran, a web journalist, wanted to do a story on reaction to the sign, so she had her boyfriend hold it. When he got tired of holding it, she held it. In the business, this is referred to as “crossing the line.”

She revealed it all to the Gawker website:


The next day, The Takeaway’s director fired me over the phone, effective immediately. He was inconsolably angry, and said that I had violated every ethic of journalism, and that this should be a “teaching moment” for me in my career as a journalist. The segment I had pitched, of course, would not happen. Ironically, the following day Marketplace did pretty much the exact segment I thought would have been great on The Takeaway, with Kai Ryssdal discussing the sign and the Goldman Sachs deal it alluded to in terms that were far from neutral.

Well, not exactly. The story Marketplace did was with the person who wrote the words, not a reporter who was taking part in a demonstration and then covering herself taking part in a demonstration.

It may well be splitting hairs, but if you write the words that someone else uses in an active news story, is that the same as holding the sign with those words? Here’s the original post on The Atlantic’s website, which has context and information, and would constitute, as they say, “informed opinion.”

Nonetheless, does that make the journalist who wrote the words part of the protest?

  • Jim Shapiro

    Perhaps another complicating factor when determining ethics is that anyone with a cellphone and a computer – OK, a smartphone – and the ability and desire to use it to communicate a message can now essentially do the work of a “journalist”.

    The playing field is changing fast, and the rules will inevitably change with it. For better and worse.

    (J school was never all that it was stacked up to be anyway :-)

  • Bob Collins

    //and desire to use it to communicate a message can now essentially do the work of a “journalist”.

    I’ll stipulate only to the fact that a lot of people think they do.

  • Mark Gisleson

    Not arguing with you (for a change), but what assurance do news consumers have that the people who assign the reporters don’t have conflicts of interest? Or that the people who oversee the editors who make story assignments don’t have conflicts of interest?

    Here in the Twin Cities, our biggest newspaper, the Star Tribune, currently has anonymous owners. Doesn’t that raise any questions about the sanctity of the news?

  • Bob Collins

    It depends on what constitutes a conflict of interest. I’ve written in the past about the myth of objectivity. EVERY story that is written or broadcast or edited was selected for some reason. An out-and-out conflict of interest? Not usually. A personal interest? Usually.

    That doesn’t make it wrong, although it DOES explain why diversity in the newsroom is so important.

    The news — not the packing of news — usually reflects the people doing it That’s my opinion, anyway..

  • Jim Shapiro

    I probably should have said that anyone with a smartphone and the desire can do the work of a “reporter”.

    A good journalist is a good writer, and good writers are born, not made.