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Can you cover issues like gay marriage if you’re gay?

by on October 27, 2015

In June 2015, the United States Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the nation. The fight for gay marriage has been an on-going issue, especially in more conservative states. Typically, right wing supporters have been on the opposing side of the issue.

When the decision was announced, media outlets like BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post and Mashable all changed their Twitter avatars to pictures of rainbow flags, the symbol of the LGBTQ community. In an article for POLITICO, journalist Dylan Byers explored whether or not news outlets should be able to declare their allegiance to sides of an issue if it’s such a hot topic. Byers asked, would the New York Times or the Washington Post show their support like this? CNN even shared an infographic on Twitter titled, “Where Same-Sex Marriage is Legal in the United States,” with the caption, “Every. Single. State. #LoveWins.” Even news outlets that are perceived to have little to no bias shared their support in the Supreme Court’s decision.

When pressed about the decision to change the avatar, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed Ben Smith said that he stood by the team’s decision to share their support and continued by saying that same-sex marriage “is an issue which does not have sides.”

I completely agree with Smith: gay marriage isn’t an issue that has sides, but it’s something that should be universally accepted. This issue, like so many before, is one of civil rights. Everybody should have the opportunity to be married legally, whether they choose to do so or not. I don’t think that media outlets should be scrutinized for publishing their beliefs when it comes to issues of race, gender, sexual orientation or any other topics like these. These all tie in to questions of equality, which should be universal throughout the world. I fully believe that it’s ethical for outlets to share support for issues that are prevalent and deal with basic human rights.

That being said, it’s important to not fight with those who disagree, bringing me to another article written for the Columbia Journalism Review, titled, “Covering gay marriage when it’s really personal.” Author Steve Friess was sent to cover the legalization of gay marriage in Michigan, where he lived with his long-term partner. The two wanted nothing more to be legally wed and adopt a child. But did the fact that he identified as gay mean he shouldn’t be covering the issue, even though it was a really big deal at the time?

Friess writes, “I find it useful to be aware of your biases, even if they are righteous and moral, and to take regular inventory of whether you are serving readers as they expect to be served.” Though he is a supporter of gay marriage, Friess writes that he never fought with sources over their opinions and always knew he supported the issue, so he tried extra hard to make sure he was questioning himself through the process in order to avoid sharing his personal beliefs.

I understand that being close to a subject can make it difficult to cover, but in this particular instance, I don’t think that it’s a bad thing to have a gay man covering the debates and decisions, especially because information was presented as it is, rather than getting upset or offended. The important thing is to remain professional and refrain from disagreeing openly with sources during an interview and making them uncomfortable. Friess writes that John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, is against gay marriage, yet when Friess later on told him he was in fact gay, Eastman said that he didn’t think Friess needed to be up front with him at the time of the interview because he was always comfortable and never felt like Friess was pushing him one way or the other. That is what makes a good reporter and that is how issues should be handled.

In my opinion, we want journalists who are interested in a topic, or have some sort of a connection, to cover that topic because then people dive into the topic full speed. When people are interested, they typically research fully and thoroughly. As long as we can differentiate between facts/reality and opinion/bias, things will be fine. And if it makes the journalist feel better to disclose personal information, than so be it, but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary because everyone comes from somewhere and everyone is going to have an opinion. If you don’t allow people to cover things close to them, can you ever really have reporters doing actual reporting?  It’s more about presenting information without completely swaying to one side or another, and making sources feel comfortable.

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One Comment
  1. This is definitely a source of debate for many journalists and I think it’s great that you brought it up. As journalists, we’re taught to be objective in what we write. As humans, we’re opinionated. While for the most part, I do agree that a journalist should be objective to the best of their abilities, I hold to the opinion that objectivity is not relevant in certain cases. Thinking back to less than 100 years ago, during the Jim Crow Era, when racism was accepted in the mainstream media AS the norm, being objective was to gloss over racism as socially acceptable. That’s because back then there were barely any minorities in the media. There still isn’t much diversity in the news room, but those issues are now not considered socially acceptable (not to say that microaggressions don’t exist). Anyways, I think it’s completely acceptable for LGBTQ+ journalists to cover LGBTQ+ issues, just as I think it is acceptable for people of color to cover racial issues.

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