Politics junkies in journalism?

QUESTION: I have always been a very large news and political junkie. So recently, when I decided to make a career change I enrolled in an intensive broadcast journalism program. My intent in entering the program was to hone my skills in order to either host a current affairs show and/or become a political reporter. My reasons are simple, I have worked both in the Ontario civil service, as a political advisor to two cabinet ministers, and once ran as a candidate in a federal election. I know and understand politics inside out. Over the years I have appeared regularly on current affairs shows to provide commentary and analysis of events. Recently, I learned that because of my political background it is highly unlikely that any news director would hire me to become a political journalist. Is this true? I have not been a member of a political party for at least four years. Answer by Bruce Campion-Smith, Ottawa bureau chief for the Toronto Star.

Unfortunately the political experience cited by the reader is a two-edged sword. It gives her great insights into the political process, the kind of behind-the-scences decision-making that even political reporters are shut out of. That’s a plus. The con is that political jobs can give a taint, an implied bias to someone who wants to pursue a career in journalism, where one’s reputation hinges — or at least should hinge — of perceptions of impartiality. In this case, I think it’s the actual run for office which could be the bigger millstone around her neck. That said, people have moved between the two fields, largely on the strength of their own personalities, the quality of their work and their demonstrated fairness in their stories. If it’s any consolation, the few examples I can think of are in the broadcast field where the past political experience is openly touted to highlight the reporter’s political skills.

Bruce Campion-Smith is the Ottawa bureau chief for the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily newspaper. He joined the Ottawa bureau in 2003. He’s worked as a general assignment reporter, transportation beat reporter, assistant city editor and an editorial writer.