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Inside The Newsroom, Is Speech Not So Free?

An interesting question is raised by the Lorne Manly article in The New York Times' Week in Review section in which he examines the proper place of individual expression in the newsroom. Manly explains the month-long suspension of ABC's John Green, whose politically incorrect e-mail sentiments about President Bush and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright led to the disciplinary action and adds:
The punishment has sparked a discussion within media circles about the proper limits of newsroom repartee and the meaning of objectivity in a polarized and electronically connected environment. Although Mr. Green's private riffs were bipartisan in nature and do not appear to have leeched into news coverage, they come at a time when the mainstream media — whipsawed by a smattering of high-profile misdeeds and an aggressive gotcha police among bloggers and advocacy groups — are striving mightily to appear impartial above all.
You can read the e-mails sent by Green in the story and make up your own mind about them. The bigger question though is, to what extent should media organizations police the internal discussions in the newsrooms? You can find talk and banter in just about any workplace that might stretch the bounds of polite society – from the break room to the board room. Corporate America and society at large has gone through decades of sensitivity training, but shouldn't the newsroom be more a bastion of free-flowing thought and less a prim and proper place?

As Manly points out, the old days of smoke-filled newsrooms populated by rumpled, gruff, whiskey-swilling reporters are no longer, if those days ever really existed. But it seems to me it shouldn't evolve into a completely sterilized environment either. Newsrooms deal with the most emotional, contentious and complicated issues in society, often on tight deadlines. Should we really be insisting our journalists not to have independent thoughts and feelings about them? Shouldn't we judge journalists on their product, instead of un-edited thoughts e-mailed to colleagues in the heat of a moment?