Should Journalists Abstain From Voting?

In case you haven’t noticed, professional journalists have a PR problem. The public’s opinion of their craft and “the media” they inhabit hit an all-time low last year. This finding reflects an increasingly polarized electorate filled with fed-up citizens who often retreat to openly partisan news sources because they believe all other media outlets to be tainted by bias in some form.

The fact that a healthy, functioning democracy needs journalists to survive should go without saying–and despite working in public relations, we’re a little disturbed to learn that PR professionals currently outnumber them 4 to 1 in this country. So how can journalists improve the public’s perception of the work they do?

For some, the answer is clear: don’t vote.

This is not a new debate. In fact, the issue arises during nearly every election cycle. Austin Business Journal editor Colin Pope believes that the act of choosing a candidate or privately voting on any given issue affects his ability to inform the public as a reliably objective voice; in his opinion, he essentially forfeited his right to vote when he decided to report on the news for a living.

We think it’s safe to say that most journalists do not agree.

The question is more complicated than it seems: We can understand the argument that political journalists should eschew voting or at least refrain from giving any indication of their political preferences, but what about those who cover international relations, sports or the arts? (Yes, such people do still exist.)

Another, more prominent example of a journalist who makes clear his aversion to voting is CNBC senior editor John Carney, who phrases it like so:

We certainly agree with Carney’s sentiment–every American has the right to avoid voting altogether. And one could certainly argue that a talented journalist can influence our democracy in ways that easily transcend the power of a single vote.

But we’ll ask again: Should journalists refrain from voting in order to improve their PR problem? Would that even help? If a reporter on, say, Fox News or MSNBC–not to mention a New York Times or Wall Street Journal columnist–announced that he or she does not vote, would that fact change viewers’ perceptions of his or her employer as ideologically biased? Probably not.

Tell us, PR pros: How can journalists earn back the public’s respect?