Should journalists donate time and money to causes? It’s a question posed by Judith Smelser. Start by thinking about two other questions: How do you define professional conduct and how do you define your own priorities.
A professional journalist isn’t asked to be a monk or a high priest. She’s asked to conduct herself in a thorough manner to reveal the truth in the fairest way possible given the constraints of time and access. The journalist must pay homage to the idea that each topic has not two sides, but many sides… and allow them all to flourish in reporting. She must apply a forensic scientists zeal to seeking out facts that illuminate. The idea that journalists must remove themselves from being a part of the living doesn’t factor into this equation.
That leads to the second question. If your ethos demands that you are part of a community, then you ought to live the way your heart demands. If you believe that you don’t live to work…. then you orient yourself as befits someone who is part of the world.
Don’t get me wrong, many in journalism believe that hewing to something called “objectivity” means never doing or saying anything that might show you have positions or thoughts or beliefs. Jim Lehrer has said he doesn’t vote because that might somehow betray an objectivity that must lie at the heart of who he is. But perhaps the fairness and professionalism of a journalist ought to lie in the product of his work. Maybe the idea of being fair ought to derive from the openness of the reporter and the fairness of that person’s reporting process. In a way, maintaining a public neutrality is far easier than making sure the work you do is fair to the truth. The former feels a bit like public relations, while the latter is product of … a professional.