By Christina Soto | Broadcast Managing Editor
A journalist’s role is to inform the public of any and all news, but there is more to journalism than just writing news articles or doing broadcasts. Being a journalist requires one to follow a code of ethics. The Society of Professional Journalists says that a journalist should: seek the truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable and transparent.
Acting independently is a news value that every good journalist strives to accomplish. Being objective is our duty. Journalists are responsible for giving the public an accurate, truthful, unbiased account of the news. If you read a news article and you cannot tell what side of an issue the writer is on, then journalists have done their job correctly. It is important for journalists not to have their opinions heard, especially through their work.
Therefore, when journalists are obligated to write opinion columns, it can be extremely difficult. Since we don’t want the public to know our points of view on controversial topics such as politics, the economy and LGBTQ issues, we struggle with writing opinion columns on these topics. I know as a college journalist myself, I always avoid writing opinion columns on controversial topics, not because I don’t want to receive backlash from readers, but because I am afraid of how it could affect me in the future. For example, if I write a column on my political views and one day and then cover a Women’s March or a Trump rally, some people may look back at the opinion column I did in college and assume my piece was subjective. Something I wrote in college could potentially taint my credibility further down the road in my career as a journalist.
Another reason it is difficult for college journalists to write controversial opinion columns is that our opinions change. As we grow and learn more about ourselves, our opinions may drastically shift. In this way, what we believed in college may not be the same opinion we have when we are in our 40s.
An assistant professor in Lehigh University’s Department of Journalism and Communication, Jayeon Lee conducted a study to see the effects of journalists’ social media on their credibility. The study was called “The Double-Edged Sword: The Effects of Journalists’ Social Media Activities on Audience Perceptions of Journalists and Their News Products.”
The study found that journalists who shared their opinions seemed more friendly to their audience, but it effected the public’s perception of them professionally.
“The results show that journalists’ social media activities did significantly affect young audiences’ perceptions. The journalists who revealed their personalities and interacted with audiences via social media were regarded more positively than those who did not engage in those activities … On the other hand, journalists’ online interaction with audiences had a significantly negative effect on audience perceptions in the professional dimension,” Lee wrote in her study.
In this way, it is more evident then ever that journalists not only have to be wary of what opinion columns they write, but also what they post on their social media accounts.
“This finding demonstrates that social media are indeed a double-edged sword which represents both opportunity and problem,” Lee wrote.
All in all, journalist should not write opinion columns or share their opinions with their public audience. Although it gives journalists a way to showcase their personality and become more relatable to people, it does more harm then good.