Should Journalists Have Opinions?


Yes, they should.

After the chaotic “debate” Tuesday night between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, people tweeted their condemnation of Trump’s interruptions, attacks against Biden, and Chris Wallace’s lack of control in moderating the debate. Soledad O’Brien, a renowned journalist, tweeted her disappointment in Wallace saying this:

A tweet from journalist and media company owner Soledad O'Brien on her thoughts about the 2020 coverage of the presidential debates.

O’Brien is one of the few journalists I see on social media speaking up on bad journalism (i.e. “both-sidsing,” stenography, asking “yes/no” questions) and correcting it. She tells her opinions but backs them up with facts. This brings me to this tweet by fellow journalist Jeff Butera, who authored the book Write Like You Talk.” In his book, he teaches broadcast reporters how to write in a more conversational tone instead of heavy formalities. Like his book, my former journalism professors also taught me proper broadcast writing and presenting.

But his tweet about journalists telling their opinions on social media stood out to me. He said:

A Twitter thread from Jeff Butera on guidelines every journalist must follow in the industry.

My broadcast professor also gave me this advice. Before graduating, I deleted all social media posts that had opinions, political views, and curse words. Though my social media posts were relatively mild, I wanted employment as a journalist and quickly deleted them. Now, I’m rethinking why I did that (minus the curse words). The 2016 election was the first time my generation got to vote and it really opened up our eyes to our country. We are more aware now of how elections, at all levels of government, impact our lives. Everything from institutional racism to climate change affects us, especially non-white citizens.

I now view objectivity in journalism as a privilege for mainly white journalists. These issues do not affect them as much as minority groups. They can empathize but lack the connection to stories that do not impact them. I see black journalists express difficulty reporting killings of black people by police officers and how they must remain numb in order to report the story. Hispanic journalists have to mind their opinions when covering child separation at the border or DACA. That is not okay. To me, that reflects the lack of racial/ethnic diversity in newsrooms and their connection to the community.

We are way past the neutrality of journalism. This current administration proves it. Lies and disinformation coming from the white house go unchecked. Trump attacks the press, threatens retaliation, and does not respect the rule of law. Yet, we are still expected to report on him as if his presidency is normal. Calling his statements lies is not partisan. Providing context along with his lies is not partisan. Asking well-researched, open-ended questions is not partisan. Calling out racism is not partisan. It’s reality.

Journalists are storytellers who clarify the news. It’s time we let go of that industry standard.

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