More than 30 years ago, when I was a young and green and still-a-very-much-learning-my-craft journalist in Ottawa, I was given some words of wisdom that, ever since, I’ve always strived to adhere to.
“As a reporter, you can never be unbiased,” my good friend and a veteran of both print and broadcast media had warned me. His point was that we’re all human beings, not robots, and therefore have opinions – and that journalists have plenty of them. “But,” he stressed, “as a reporter you can, and must, always be fair.”
It’s important, here, to make the distinction between a reporter and a columnist – the latter uses their space to espouse and expound on an opinion, which, if they’re doing their job properly, is still based on research and reason.
A reporter, conversely — (I’m not talking to you, Fox News and your ilk) — must strive for balance.
Indeed, my friend’s advice was top of my mind – and, being honest, a personal challenge — when I was putting together the most recent episode 30 of The Advocate Podcast. It includes a segment that features points-of-view from both sides of an issue that has, for about a decade, created two very different camps in Kawartha Lakes. One wants City Council to permit ATVs to travel along designated streets in Lindsay. The other does not.
Indeed, I was a vocal proponent of one of those sides at a public meeting about 10 years ago and in a follow-up letter to the editor of our local newspaper at the time. So, it was understandable when one of the parties I had approached about presenting their case, in a strictly structured segment for the program, was apprehensive – skeptical even, since that person was well aware of my personal stance.
Fair enough. And I applaud that person for still agreeing to participate after I made it clear that it’d be a balanced, equal-time presentation preceded by a sober, scripted introduction. Some might even say my introduction of the segment was emotionless. Better that than bias, I say.
Yet, after hearing the pro/con segment, an acquaintance guessed that I was sympathetic to one camp over the other. That they guessed the wrong camp was actually reassuring that I hadn’t tipped my true hand. And it made me grateful for that good friend’s advice more than 30 years ago.
Denis Grignon is the producer/host of The Advocate Podcast: Stories from Kawartha Lakes, brought to you by Wards Lawyers. Download/stream all episodes for free on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.