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Objectivity in Politics: An election faux pas

by on November 10, 2011

Northampton City Councilor Pam Schwartz receives poll results on her blackberry.

Fresh from the polls myself, I ran to City Hall on Tuesday evening to cover the Northampton elections with Northampton Media. The front hallway was soon crammed with reporters, politicians, and political enthusiasts. All anxiously awaited results from the polls.

The politicians themselves seemed to be the first to know. I saw City Councilor Pam Schwartz texting rapidly on her blackberry and I moved in to ask her what she knew. She did not recognize me at the time and asked me who I was. I reminded her that I am a reporter with Northampton Media, and then something else slipped out.

“And I just voted for you in Ward 4,” I girlishly blurted out.

In the split second before those words fell out of my mouth, I quickly thought that to say that I voted for her in Ward 4 was not a big deal, as she ran uncontested and a vote for someone with a proven track-record was better than a vote for no one.

But as soon as the words came out of my mouth, I realized how unprofessional they sounded. Even though Schwartz ran uncontested, to vote for her shows support, no matter how small.

She giggled and thanked me while I mentally kicked myself.

Since then, I have considered both sides to the argument for and against the appropriateness of a reporter voting in an election they are covering. I feel caught between my sense of obligation as a citizen to elect leaders that will better guide us and my professional desire as a reporter to remain objective.

As is shown in this case, having voted did affect my ability to remain neutral during my coverage. While I remain confident in my ability to write a balanced, objective story, I tainted my personal objective stance by revealing a small amount of my political views. I will consider more seriously my decision to vote in future reelections, especially if my focus continues to be primarily political.

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2 Comments
  1. camdunbar permalink

    I appreciate reading your honest interpretation of what happened. For us stubborn people, (like myself) admitting a mistake like that is a hard thing to do. But what’s most important, as you pointed out, is that you remain objective and that transcends to your writing. It’s good that a mistake like this occurred now and not when it really counted. I find myself getting too close to sources sometimes when I’ve been writing and I try to stay away from that. For example, I was doing a story a couple years ago and wrote about someone who was a friend of mine. It wasn’t a particularly hard hitting story, but in the future I’d be careful not to write about someone I knew personally. As I mature in this profession, I’ll meet more people and that’ll become tougher – to talk to someone I don’t know personally already – but it’s totally do-able. Thanks for the post, it was good reading.

  2. I agree with your “mental kicking” of yourself, only in the sense that you revealed your political motives, not that you have the motives to begin with. There are probably organizations out there that do not even want their reporters voting at all, much less talking about who they voted for at the polls. I do not think that an organization’s rules for its journalists should impede on the constitutional right to vote. A person’s profession should not make it so a person cannot contribute to the running of his or her country. However, if an organization requests discretion, I do not think that is unreasonable.

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