One of those always-debated ethics questions
This Sept. 25 article by John Temple, editor of the Rocky Mountain News lays out the debate pretty well with a lucid explanation of why Temple comes down on the restrictive side. The issue was whether staffers could go to concerts where the proceeds clearly were to benefit a candidate or party.
A short excerpt:
I believe our allegiance has to be to you, our readers. We should avoid doing anything that would raise a question in your mind about our ability to be fair. (We journalists already are fighting an uphill battle, as witness the Dan Rather apology this week.)
I believe we should err on the side of caution, that we should do everything we can to maintain and build your trust and should do nothing to damage it.
My approach doesn't necessarily sit well with everyone here, especially those who believe the only issue is whether our work is fair and accurate, not whether our actions outside the newsroom raise questions in a reasonable person's mind about our ability to be fair and accurate. Outside activities don't matter; the quality of our work does, the proponents of this view argue.
But I believe appearances matter. Journalists have to give up certain things for the sake of their job. Of course, normally they should be able to go to concerts or movies of their choosing. It's important for us to be curious and to be exposed to different ideas.
But journalists shouldn't become part of the story.
Came across this story later from the Daily Pennsylvanian (University of Pennsylvania) in which the writer argues that The Daily Show might well be one of the most honest and most informing shows, especially this election season, by abandoning the idea of balance. He uses what has become a more fashionable argument lately -- that not all truths are equally balanced and that the media must make judgements.