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…
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?