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By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor
It’s one of the distinctive skills that good journalists have — the ability (even the imperative) to always follow an objective process in their work, while acknowledging that their own experiences are formative.
That skill is an ever-so-rare application of discipline and ethics, one that even the media-literate among the general public don’t fully understand. But despite that superpower, journalists are human, with strong emotions and a sharp sense of right and wrong, honed by years of alert and empathetic observation.
The Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling, overturning Roe, has tested that tension like nothing before. It surely has amplified the debate over how journalists should express their humanity without compromising their work, and their colleagues’ work.
To make things harder on people who are persevering through personal turmoil, there has been violence, again, against journalists covering protests (The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker database is documenting them and on Twitter, and Tyler Valeska of Stanford Law is curating Twitter reports).
Several media companies felt the need in the past few days to restate or explain social media policy. Gannett, which has 12 newsrooms in North Carolina, sent out a memo that said “journalists must be mindful of what they post on social media” and “as journalists, we make sacrifices for our profession.” Axios, which has Axios Local sites in Charlotte and Raleigh, asked staff members to “refrain from taking political stands in public” and said: “We know this is a lot to ask when you feel your identity or most sacred values are under assault. But public stands on political topics can undermine trust in our journalism.” (Sam Sanders, formerly of NPR and now with Vulture for New York Magazine, had some interesting things to say about oversight of journalists’ social media.)
I did a spot check by email of a few other news organizations throughout the state and found that most had trust in their staffs.
There was no need to provide any guidance at North Carolina Health News, editor Rose Hoban told me: “In general, the folks on my team are pretty smart about social media.” It’s likewise at Carolina Public Press, founder and executive director Angie Newsome said. (For some Newsome news, by the way, keep reading.)
Same for Bill Horner III, publisher and editor of the Chatham News + Record. “I don’t think it’s been an issue so far,” he told me. “We don’t have a formal policy, and if we did, there’s probably a time or two I’ve violated it.” He said the N+R sometimes is accused of “activist journalism” and that “there’s probably suggestions of that in staff tweets (though not, I’m convinced, in our stories).”
No broad reminders of policy went out in the McClatchy newsrooms, either.
I figured my most useful service in this moment might be to collect a few viewpoints, tips and resources, but I hope you’ll indulge a couple of my thoughts:
I’m convinced that good journalists will always follow an objective process, but they’re not bots — and, as Wesley Lowery tweeted, their humanity enriches their work, rather than tainting it. They’re smart enough to weigh, in their public behavior, the potential benefits against the risks — for themselves, for their organizations, for their colleagues, and for the influence capital that we still own.
Remember that a “value,” by definition, doesn’t actually exist outside our own minds. It’s the expression of our values that matters — and it’s up to each of us to decide in what format that expression can be most effective.
Some resources and tips for covering reproductive rights issues:
How to ensure diverse viewpoints in abortion coverage. Doris Truong, Poynter.
Josh Stearns at Democracy Fund posted a great thread with copious resources. So did the Institute for Nonprofit News.
This one’s really helpful, I think: Resources for Journalists: 15 Points to Consider When Covering Abortion, the Supreme Court and a Potential “Post-Roe World.” Lauren Cross, Elizabeth Nash, and Isabel Guarnieri, Guttmacher Institute.
I’m re-platforming an eye-opening Twitter Space chat by Scalawag’s Ko Bragg with four abortion providers on what the media get wrong in coverage of reproductive rights.
The end of Roe v. Wade will shake up America for years. Here’s how to tell those stories. Shefali Luthra, Center for Health Journalism, USC Annenberg School.
Tips for Reporting on Reproductive Health. Devin Windelspecht and Jamaija Rhoades, International Center for Journalists.
Reproductive Justice Media Reference Guide (a guide for reporting on abortion and the Latinx community). Forward Together.
U.S. Press Freedom Tracker offers this thread of tips for covering protests.
Laws targeting free speech about abortion would put journalists in the line of fire. Ashton Lattimore, Prism.
One more with thoughts on expressing yourself:
It’s possible to be a journalist and a human. Alex Sujong Laughlin, Poynter.