Sunday, August 03, 2008

Should journalists clap for political candidates?

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?


Anonymous said...

No cheering/booing from the press box applies esp. to politics, it would seem most "journalist" forget that rule, glad to see some still respect it. Here on this blog I think you could give your personal opinions but do so as a Citizen, not a journalist.

Mark Clayton Hand said...

I would suggest that there´s a significant difference between an officeholder and a candidate, don´t you think? I would say to respect the office once he´s got it but keep a cooler head about Obama the miracle candidate.

Adam Kealoha Causey said...

I'm trying, jcoltf. You raise an interesting point about journalist vs. citizen. Since this is a blog for young journalists, I think we should be careful with the kind of opinions we give. If I'm saying I love some candidate, I think it would be hard for you to take my coverage of said candidate seriously.

What up, MCH. Yes, there certainly are differences, particularly with accountability, between a candidate and an elected official. I think I will avoid clapping and hoo-hahing whether Obama is the miracle candidate or the president, though. And I think it will be a while before I'm in any White House press conferences, so I guess it won't matter too much.

By the way, our blog is about to move to So look for it there soon.

Thanks for the comments.