As many know this past Saturday Washington D.C hosted a rally put on by political satirists, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The Rally to Restore Sanity and or Fear drew an estimated 215,000 people according to a CBS estimate; of those 215,000 audience members you were not likely to find NPR employees.
Last Wednesday NPR issued a memo sent originally to news staff but later sent to all employees in which NPR reminded employees that attending political rallies, contributing to candidates, and otherwise engaging in politics is not allowed.
Media coverage of NPR’s memo was extensive and prompted many media outlets to weigh-in on their policies. While some outlets such as NPR do not allow employees to attend such events, others are more vague in their policy such as suggesting employee’s exercise good judgment.
The question becomes does a journalist’s independence extend beyond the newsroom and work day? In a recent blog Jeff Jarvis, an associate professor at CUNY’s (City University of New York) graduate school of journalism, argues it does not and that in their quests to be independent, journalists have lost touch with the communities they serve.
Jarvis is not saying that journalists should be able to state their opinion willy-nilly and become news commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, or Bill O’Reilly. Rather he is saying that journalists should be allowed to explore the world they cover, even political events, while off of the job.
Should journalists have to hide their opinions while off the job? If a journalist produces unbiased work but is active politically, does that make them any less of a journalist? What say you?