Biasing my Own Opinions

October 17, 2011

Learning, Political action


This is an inappropriate, unprofessional, and probably wrong forum to express this, but I’d rather be blunt / go forth online and for the purposes of this class than hold back and be kept quiet.  (Apparently, these theorists have taught me a lot. )

This is in reply, but a separate anecdote commensurate to sep full blog post, to the nurses blog post below.

Your point on protests, University governance / interference, and the role of the University as a whole is a great one.  As someone who writes for The Michigan Daily, several of these points have come up in recent discussions.  As some of you may or may not know, there are strict ethical / bylaws that reporters in the ‘news’ section (as opposed to sports / photo / design / opinion) must adhere to.  This is to retain credibility and prevent bias, or the slightest notion of bias.

 

Included in these rules / bylaws are such things as not expressing your views about things  you cover on social media sites, via tee shirts/apparel, bumper stickers, etc.  NOW, I agree.  I think that if I wore a shirt that said “support the nurses,” and I covered this story, this would be acceptable to be told by superiors / management that I shouldn’t wear the shirt, or that I wouldn’t be able to cover the event / organization.

 

We are also “not allowed / supposed to hold a leadership position of any kind in an organization we are reporting about/cover.” This is another point I see, and of course agree with.

 

HOWEVER, this has been taken to new lengths by several members of the editorial staff (who I pray are not in this class).  Case in point: I took a picture two weeks ago with a friend of mine who happens to be a senior elected official at the University (MSA).  It was posted to my Facebook, and several friends ‘liked’ and ‘commented. Now, I should disclose, there are several things for various ethical reasons I have resigned from covering at the Daily, student government (inclusive of MSA), administration (regents, Provost, President, etc.) and local politics are included in them.  Nonetheless, within 9 minutes (don’t think I didn’t count), my cell phone rang, and I was told I could not have a picture of this student online.  “He’s a friend of mine, the picture is neither inappropriate nor does it reflect bias, and if you really want to reference bylaws, that only applies if I don’t cover it,” I told them.  I was told to take it down anyway ,and of course, obliged.

 

Case again in point: As the political wonk that I was / in some ways still am, while working for different organizations, I was able to go to the White House last year.  With various pictures of the building/history/architecture/etc., on Facebook, as well as pictures with several of my then ‘heroes’, a week after joining the Daily staff, I was asked to take it down, as this showed political bias.  I argued that I should be able to have pictures of the building/overall, and would take down specific people / officials, but was told that they all must come down.  (I have since quietly reinstated a few of them to FB – see for yourself.)

 

Case again in point: I got a fourth job this year.  It’s crazy, I work absurd amounts, and it’s probably some type of disorder, but I wanted to.  The job was akin to a work-study position, in the Office of Student Relations / Academic Affairs.  I was now told (this was 4 weeks ago), that it wasn’t a bias towards a specific ‘beat’ (such as administration, student life, campus life, business, city life, crime, etc.) but that I could no longer write for the news section.  Long story mitigated, I fought it and won, but is it realistic to tell a student at a University that they cannot hold a job because it biases reportage because of proprietary information they may or may not receive / be privy to? Furthermore, given as I mentioned that I was already not able to cover politics/ student government / administration, is it realistic to argue that I still shouldn’t be able to have involvement here?

 

I have no problem with rules.  But as Hobbes would say, “A man cannot lay down the right of resisting them that assault him by force, to take away his life.”

 

Funny that I took that position and held this very conversation in an office that contributes much of the reportage to the newspaper.  Now, some, if not most of these folks, are my best friends.  We get along and I admire their moxy and dedication to the paper, but as the adults I work for lamented, aren’t these people stripping students of certain unalienable rights, not just freedoms as everyone has, as students, but also hindering the experience of expression as a college student, by furthering their argument in contending that reporters cannot attend / be seen attending any protest / acts in the Diag, on campus, or otherwise, that may in any way jeopardize the integrity of the paper.  (Which they deem to be any and all protests, political, academic, or otherwise.) Open do debate.

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4 Comments on “Biasing my Own Opinions”

  1. Jordan Wylie Says:

    I find your post intriguing. I also joined the Michigan Daily my freshman year. I’d been apart of my high school’s newspaper and thought the Michigan Daily was an excellent way for me to learn more. I’m not really a writer so I joined the staff that does the newspaper layouts. Being on the staff of the Daily was not what I thought it would be. My first experience was during editor elections. The elections began in the evening and I was told were going to last into the wee hours of the morning. The person who was running for editor-in-chief was running unopposed however, their speech and what I’m assuming was their promises to the staff (I’m not really sure because I stopped listening) lasted at least 3-4 hours. I was amazed! How could a person who is running unopposed have so much to say! He was defending himself on topics that everyone pretty much agreed with him on. Needless to say I left elections early when I realized there were still a dozen or so people running for other positions who were going to make the same long speeches.

    What I am trying to say is, I think sometimes the Daily takes things a little too seriously. I quit the newspaper not long after the elections because doing layouts for the paper wasn’t fun. I found it stressful and even though you got paid (hardly anything) it just wasn’t worth it to me. I wanted to join to make friends and learn more, but I would just leave the offices stressed and nervous.

    The Michigan Daily is a superb newspaper. Most other collegiate newspapers are not as professional. However, even though some people on the staff want to be journalists, not all do. The Daily is still a student run paper. Students write, take photos, do layouts and everything else. STUDENTS. These students should also be able to enjoy the freedoms that every other student does. I completely understand if a professional newspaper places restrictions on journalists who are being paid and this is their career. But students who want to participate with the university newspaper should still be able to act like students. They shouldn’t be forced to grow up so quickly and constantly worry that their behavior is against the newspaper policy.

  2. tayrwil Says:

    As a freshman at U of M, I have recently discovered the greatness of the Michigan Daily. It really does stand out among other student-run newspapers as very professional and informative, while also entertaining. However, the level of restrictions that they put on their writers seems absurd! While being unbiased is obviously a very important factor in the reporting of news, it seems unlikely that the average reader of the Michigan Daily would be ‘Facebook stalking’ the writers. And even if they were, is a picture of a political figure meant to say that you fully share and support all of his political ideals? Aside from that, I completely agree with you on the ridiculousness of having to take down pictures of buildings/statues. These historical sites symbolize democracy and liberty, which are ideals generally shared by Americans. And regardless of their meanings, I don’t think a picture is enough to imply your own opinions or biases.

    As a student, I think that you should be able to experience all that other students do at the same time as pursuing your writing. The Michigan Daily is an awesome newspaper, no doubt about it, but it is essentially about the lives of the students. Which includes you! Your experiences and participation in the University will likely further your writing and reporting abilities, and should not be hindered by another organization.

    I also agree with the fact that the Michigan Daily is NOT professional, and therefore does not need to be enforcing these rules to such great lengths. I am sure that the success of the Michigan Daily is, in part, due to their attempts to be as professional as possible. But at the end of the day, it is a student run organization and should not be infringing upon your rights to express your own beliefs that do not necessarily pertain to what you write.

  3. alexwillard Says:

    Having never worked in journalism, or any field where my own opinions must be monitored for the slightest notion of bias, I found this post very insightful. While I think there is absolutely some merit in the argument that the Michigan Daily may be limiting the experience of reporters, in regards to their college experience. However, I also think that there is a need for separation of any preconceived biases and the press.

    In regards to this I believe that the Daily had perfectly reasonable intentions when asking you to take down the Facebook pictures. Though, I do not know the bylaws of the Daily, I do know that the internet and the diag are public spheres. With this comes the ability for anyone to view your actions. Given this it seems to me that the Daily is simply trying to avoid a potential scandal or controversy over their writing staff being biased. In a campus as liberal as Michigan’s, the Daily must work very hard to maintain an image of neutrality. If multiple pictures were to be released online of the writers participating in a rally organized by a close friend then it could be disastrous to all the creditability the paper has striven for. I am in no way implying that the picture you had of your friend or the buildings/statues in D.C. are anywhere near as controversial as what I mentioned above, but, looking at it from an outside perspective it must be tough for the editors to draw a concrete line on what could imply bias and what could not. They may fear if they bend on your one photo then other writers would post more controversial photos and use yours as evidence in their favor. In this sense it seems to me that they were not interested in stripping the rights of their contributors and their respective collegiate experience, but are instead trying to maintain the public credibility of the Daily.

  4. Danielle Studenberg Says:

    Hearing about your experiences as a writer, it opens my eyes to the extent our University controls its students. Even though Michigan is supposed to be a very liberal school that is open to all opinions, why are the voices of those who reach out to the public, our newspapers, being silenced? I do not think it is right that The Michigan Daily, or whatever your workplace is, can limit your personal expression. I understand that newspapers try not to be biased in any way, but going so far as to not let their employees post pictures on their own Facebook page is extreme. Personal websites can be made private, and certainly these pages do not directly represent The Daily.

    I experienced rules similar to the ones you had issues with when I worked in a clothing store a couple summers ago. They had strict policies on my conduct and appearance when working, yet luckily they did not place restrictions on my life outside of the store. Although I chose to work there, it was weird having to fit into their mold. I wasn’t allowed to wear much makeup or jewelry, I had to wear certain shoes and dress in clothes from the store, and I even was not allowed to wear colored nail polish. I know this is much different from a writer not being allowed to express their views, but in a way I wasn’t allowed to express myself through my appearance.

    John Stuart Mill’s work On Liberty talks about how power of society should be limited when concerning its control over the people. His views support freedom of speech and expression as long as their actions aren’t harming anyone else. In your case with The Michigan Daily, Mill would agree that you should not have to censor yourself on your own Facebook page. As I stated previously, you are not directly reflecting your views back onto the newspaper nor are intentionally trying to undermine their success. Also, Mill sees value in voicing your opinions since they lead to more ideas that may help society move forward.

    Overall, I understand that being “unbiased” adds to The Daily’s credibility and success, but they have taken their policies a bit too far.

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