Do journalists need to appear unbiased in their personal lives?

It is crucial for traditional hard news reporters to appear that he or she lacks bias, so his or her work is not continuously called into question by the public for whom the journalist serves. In order to do so, a journalist must not participate in politics or demonstrations in his or her personal life. Although all people inherently have political opinions, a journalist must create a credible image for himself or herself in more than just articles, so the journalist can appear independent, balanced, fair and trustworthy to the public.

In the notorious case of Lesley Dahlkemper and Mike Feeley, Dahkemper had to give up her career as a journalist because she was engaged to Feeley who was running for governor. According to Black, Steele and Barney, “The political reporter [Dahlkemper] already was… talking to all the prospective candidates, and we felt we [the station] could easily be charged with favoring one candidate, or ignoring something to overcompensate, or saying something negative about another candidate.” Because Dahlkemper no longer maintained a façade of neutrality in her personal life, it not only jeopardized the credibility of her work, but also the credibility of the entire station she worked for. Even though Dahlkemper didn’t breach the code of ethics necessarily, she was ultimately not able to keep her job because it could appear as if she has a conflict of interest. According to Black, Steele and Barney, “’Appearance can undermine your credibility,’ said Griffin. ‘We rely on public perception that we don’t have anything more to do than report the truth.’” Although the station considered reassigning Dahlkemper and sought out alternative resolutions to this ethical dilemma, Dahlhemper resigned because the inherent conflict of interest was too big to be ignored.

For journalists that don’t write for traditional publication, appearing unbiased is not as important. Stay tuned for a blog post about how some journalists are moving away from appearing unbiased and moving toward advocacy journalism.