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Journalism Dues and Don'ts

(AP / CBS)
What's a journalist to do nowadays? Or, more to the point, what are they allowed to do? Nobody seems to be able to agree.

Journalism websites are abuzz over how Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman issued a memo requesting that reporters keep their "personal politics" to themselves – a missive written in light of some reporters' responses to the news of Karl Rove's departure.
According to the paper's chief political reporter:

Seattle Times Executive Editor Dave Boardman wrote today in one of his morning notes to staff that there had been "an awkward moment at yesterday's news meeting." That's the meeting where editors and other staff from throughout the newsroom talk about the stories planned for the next day's paper. Boardman wrote in "Dave's Raves (and the occasional rant)"

When word came in of Karl Rove's resignation, several people in the meeting started cheering. That sort of expression is simply not appropriate for a newsroom.

Here at Public Eye, we continue to see a mixed bag of attaboys and how-could-you's about CBS News White House correspondent Bill Plante's question from Monday, where he asked of President Bush, " If [Rove] is so smart, why did you lose Congress?"

Back at the beginning of the summer, we saw some journalists get called out for contributing to political campaigns. And then there's the camp of journalistic purists who don't vote, to avoid creating some perceived conflict of interest.

I'm not attempting to organize a Save The Reporters telethon here -- journalism is a profession and its practioners need to behave professionally -- but it concerns me that the fenceposts regarding journalists' behavior continue to inch inward, whether it be a "thou shalt not" here or a "keep that under your hat" there. We need to ask what we're looking for out of reporters. And be realistic about it.

Face it: News reporters are not shruggers. They are committed, interested and invested in the events that surround them. They're not cyborgs, they're human – with sympathies lying in different directions. I'm uncomfortable with the political donations -- regardless of where it goes -- and with the applause in the Seattle Times newsroom. But what I'm more uncomfortable with is the fact that we're losing sight of the fact that reporters are people, imbued with the same angels and devils that we all are. And it's worth remembering that every once in awhile.

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