Ethics in Political Reporting

25 Apr

A “normal” day for Pennsylvania Legislative Services reporter, Jessica Richardson, can be anything from attending committee meetings, covering a press conference or attending an unannounced meeting in Harrisburg. However, almost all of her time is spent in the Capitol covering legislation in the works.

Talking to politicians used to intimidate Richardson, who started as an intern for PLS. Now she’s able to talk to these representatives and senators with ease, reminding herself that they are normal people as well, and they could have grown up in the same place that she did. Where it gets tricky is not letting her opinions on legislation overcome her reporting skills.

“Everyone has an opinion, especially in politics,” Richardson said. “But being a journalist in that realm you have to make sure that your own beliefs are aside.”

Richardson explained that there’s a focus on an abortion bill in the Capitol right now, which has always been a controversial topic with strong opinions circling the conversation. While covering the bill isn’t an ethical dilemma in itself, understanding how to separate your opinion from that of the politicians is important.

Richardson explained that challenging opinions than ones from her own can actually help her reporting.

“I think it can sometimes even be beneficial to have to put your opinions to the side,” Richardson said. “Because it gives you a bigger view of the whole picture and not only helps to inform your readers, but to inform yourself.”

As with most politicians, there are things that come out of their mouth that may be controversial. Richardson has questioned whether to print certain quotes, but ultimately chose to follow through because it’s on the record and she knows that quote is word for word.

Along with controversial quotes, there’s also the chance that what is being said can be wrong. Whether it’s intentional or not, Richardson always double checks the information before publishing.

“There can be someone throwing around statistics, research, numbers, etc., but that person could be presenting the wrong information,” Richardson said. “So you want to make sure to not just always accept what you are told at face value.”

Richardson hasn’t dealt with an example ethical situation, but I would say that she does deal with minor ethical dilemmas in her daily work. Putting aside her opinions to collect unbiased information and deciding whether or not some controversial quote from a politician is necessary in a piece are small ethical decisions that she makes.

However, these small decisions are helping form a strong ethical habit for Richardson. If something worse should occur, she is prepared to explain the information she has and knows that her reporting is based in fact and not bias. As a young reporter, these habits will likely carry on throughout her career, making her a reliable source on state politics.

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