Canadian Press reporter Stephanie Levitz wrote a terrific first-person piece about journalism ethics — and her own ethical dilemma as one of some three dozen journalists who ran with the 2010 Olympic flame.
Levitz interviewed journalists and ethicists for the piece, and quoted
William Houston’s criticism of the torchbearers: “They’re supposed to
be journalists. They will be at the Olympics as reporters and
commentators. They’re expected to be objective and independent. They
are not supposed to be part of the Olympic cheerleading torch
That’s the nub of the matter: reporters are never supposed to be
cheerleaders. We are not supposed to take sides in the story we’re
Levitz admitted her own conclusion: the story she got was not “worth
compromising my ethics.” The upside, she said, was that the journalist
torchbearers “did force a healthy debate about what journalism means in
today’s rapidly changing media environment and how far is too far to go
for access to a story.”
It’s a nice piece of writing — but importantly, imo, it addresses in
public some ethical issues traditionally considered in-house business.
I’d add one thing: I think we should distinguish between reporting —
being tasked with the daunting job of presenting unvarnished facts —
and journalism that allows for points of view. I think there’s a
difference between a columnist or feature writer carrying the torch and
writing frankly about it (provided they paid their own costs), and a
reporter who takes off the torchbearer suit to report “objectively” on the organizers and sponsors
of the event.
The 2010 Olympics is turning out to be a thorny assignment for journalists. Previously, Townhall posted about the Canwest Olympics reporter who accepted a freelance commission to write for the official magazine of the International Olympics Committee. And as I wrote in that post, most of the media industry deserves scrutiny when it comes to the Olympics: nearly every mainstream-media company in British Columbia is an official sponsor of the games.
[Update] On Jan. 17 Canwest Olympics reporter Jeff Lee responded with his own take on being a torchbearer.