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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Dilemma for Gay and Lesbian Journalists

I was asked to speak to a gathering of young journalists attending the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association meeting in Montreal this week.

As a group, they are either just starting out on their careers, or about to finish their university and college degrees. They are all anticipating a life in journalism in the United States. I was impressed by their optimism and their enthusiasm for the craft. They were also, not a little nervous about what the future may hold.

We discussed at some length their status inside a news organization as "gay journalists." In effect, were they being forced to choose between being gay and being journalists?

I suggested to them that no journalist, who is any good, comes to work in the morning and abandons entirely what he or she is. Who you are should inform your journalism, I said. But it must not deform your journalism.

Newsrooms are now (for the most part) relatively open and tolerant places, even if some in the readership and in the audience may not be. But being a journalist cannot mean using the job to be an advocate. But it makes standing up against the group-think in a newsroom more difficult.

I used, as an example, how many Jewish journalists in American newsrooms felt uncomfortable about some of the coverage of the Second Intifada, which began in September 2000. But to be critical of what some felt was anti-Israel reporting meant that they were being forced to choose between being Jewish and being journalists. This is a longer story that I will return to eventually.

In Montreal, we discussed whether it is ever right for a journalist to turn down an assignment because he or she may feel unable to be fair about an issue. For example, does being a pro-choice mean that you can't/won't interview the head of Operation Rescue, a radical pro-life protest group?

The group agreed that being professional means never turning down an assignment. And we agreed that in fact, sending a gay reporter to interview an anti-gay spokesperson might make for a much more interesting story.

And we also discussed whether the gay community is fairly portrayed by mainstream media especially when it comes to covering gay pride parades. Would gay reporters cover those events differently?

Overall, I was impressed with these young journalists and learned something about how complicated their lives can be inside newsrooms today. Their take on our discussions can be found here.

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