A week ago today I sat in an audience of hundreds in Chicago listening to Sen. Barack Obama. This was after waiting in line for about an hour to go through security.
I was in the Windy City for UNITY, a gathering of at least 6,000 journalists from throughout the United States.
There had been talk for months – and some formal announcements and attempts at planning – about Obama and Sen. John McCain showing up for a debate, or something like it. McCain opted out.
Obama was a few days late. You may have heard about his venture into the Middle East and Europe.
It was disappointing not to have both there for an exchange of ideas or a little argument. But that’s something no one outside the candidates’ campaign planners could really affect.
Something we journalists can affect, though, is the way we do our jobs and how we conduct ourselves.
We waited a few hours for Obama, who appeared live on CNN. We were the audience. Before he came on, there was a panel discussion among news managers from throughout the country. One of the questions asked was whether reporters should clap for government leaders or political candidates during speeches or events such as the one we were at.
Almost everyone on the panel said no. I was glad about that.
Now some people think it’s disrespectful. You should respect the office of the president, senator, mayor, etc… But there is a common line of thought among journalists that we don’t want to give even the appearance that we show some sort of favor toward one official or another. That doesn’t mean a lack of respect.
But you wouldn’t have known many journalists think like that last week. During the commercial break, reporters hopped out of their seats, ran to the stage, and snapped photos of Obama with their cell phones. Many clapped or cheered when he spoke during taping.
I could take issue with other things that happened, including that in a room full of hundreds of journalists, we were allowed to ask only four questions, one for each organization at the convention: AAJA, NABJ, NAHJ and NAJA. But that, I think, had a lot to do with planning and organization for television.
But what do you think? Is it silly for us journalists to be concerned with something like applause? Or does it make you trust us less? Or more?