Nisha Chittal asked a number of journalists (including me) about where they stand for on using same-sex marriage symbols on their social media profiles.
Here’s what she found: “The answer is a multi-layered one: it depends on the journalist, the outlet they work for, the social media platform, and whether the journalist is covering this week’s Supreme Court hearings.”
I was honored to see that Nisha gave me the “kicker quote” at the end. If you’d like to weigh in on your stance on this ethical issue, comment away.
Here’s the statement I submitted to her inquiry:
In general, the consensus answer amongst the journalists I respect is that changing your avatar to a symbol like this is not OK, based upon the ethics policies of places like the AP, WSJ, NYT, PBS or NPR.
I think the capacity to demonstrate support for one side of a contentious social issue like this varies, depending upon the masthead a journalist is working under, the ethics policy of that masthead, the role of the journalist and the coverage area of the journalist. Staking out positions on a reporter’s beat is generally frowned upon.
Opinion journalists who regularly take positions on the issues of the day as columnists have often already made it clear where they stand on a policy or law. Advocacy journalism has an established place in the marketplace for ideas. Readers know where a writer stands and are left to judge the strength of an argument and the evidence presented to back it.
If a reporter takes on overt, implicit position on an issue that she is reporting on, however, will it be possible to interview sources who oppose it?
On the other hand, there are a number of social issues that may have had “sides” in past public discourse but have now become viewpoints that few journalists would find tenable to support today.
How many journalists were able to remain neutral or objective in their coverage of slavery in the 1860s? Womens’ suffrage in the early 20th century? Civil rights in the 1960s? Child slavery, sex trafficking, so-called “honor rape” or the impression of child soldiers in the present?
Interracial marriage was illegal in some states in the Union, not so many years ago. That is not the case any longer. It seems to me that gay marriage is on the same trajectory. The arc of the moral universe is long indeed, but I tend to agree with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on its trajectory: it bends towards justice.
2 responses to “Can journalists change their social media avatars to political symbols?”
I generally agree with your statement, and would just add that in addition to breaking ethics policies and alienating sources, journalists should be concerned about alienating their readers. Taking such a clear stand sends the message the reporting itself could be compromised, and readers on both sides will be more inclined to dismiss the content, possibly without even reading it.
Thank you for the comment, Scott. I don’t think that journalists want to alienate readers. That said, I’m comfortable writing that I don’t believe honor rape, to take a more extreme example, is ever warranted. If that means that I alienate a reader from a society where the practice is condoned, so be it.