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Can journalists have opinions?

In the wake of the firing of two journalists over their involvement with the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City, the opinions of journalists (and whether or not it is appropriate for them to exist/be expressed) are everywhere in the news.

This afternoon, the Associated Press updated their Twitter rules for their employees, and they are among the toughest in the business. Even NPR, which has revealed itself as a fairly harsh judge of opinionated employees, doesn’t have such intense requirements.

Poynter reported that the AP is requiring their journalists to keep opinions out of their tweets and retweets now—specifically:

“Retweets, like tweets, should not be written in a way that looks like you’re expressing a personal opinion on the issues of the day.”

They’ve also outlawed the use of disclaimers like “retweets do not indicate endorsements” as a way around the rule. Just no opinions, anyplace, anyhow.

Instead, according to Poynter,  the AP said their employees should RT the opinionated tweets by quoting them, like they would in an article.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, what follows is my opinion and is not endorsed by Medill or the Innovation Project.

Opinions seem to be fairly ingrained in today’s media—people figured out that their audience like to hear things they agree with, and it makes sense for a business looking to create some profit to give the customer what they want.

What doesn’t make sense is the masking of opinions as fact. Truth needs to be sacred to journalists, no matter how they lean—that’s what should define them as journalists. Come clean with what is an opinion, and with what isn’t. That’s all we need.

So, the AP’s guidelines could go one of two ways. One, they could help the AP commit to its definition as a non-biased, straight-talking outlet. Two, they could hurt their reporters’ ability to engage with their audience and build a brand that would, in many cases, benefit the AP. But in some cases it might hurt, and the AP has the reputation of an organization to think about.

To risk sounding trite, we are in an age of unparalleled polarization between political opinions. Things might just be too tense right now for unbiased reporters to tweet or retweet opinions—but everyone knows they have them anyway.

What do you think? Does a journalist’s retweet of an opinion change your feeling about their coverage?

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