Ethical dilemmas of “both sides” journalism

Should journalists always strive for neutrality?

The Society of Professional Journalists states in its Code of Ethics that journalists should make sure to report information that is accurate, fair, and ethical. To do so, one of the traditional methods can be to seek both sides of a story to cover each point of view equally. However, despite being efficient in certain cases, 55 per cent of American journalists believe that this method has limitations that may not always make it the best approach to follow, according to recent Pew Research Center data.

This reflection started to make full sense to me after I encountered my first ethical challenge as a newcomer in journalism. As part of two distinct photojournalism projects, I coincidentally ended up photographing two individuals involved in a juridical conflict. The way I learned about this situation was when the first person I worked with attempted to influence me to support their side after I posted the photos I took of the second person. 

I learned that the first person who was trying to involve me in this situation was being accused by the other party of infractions that were at the opposite of my values, such as harassment. Consequently, I started to feel torn up by the following dilemma: Should I publish both projects, potentially giving equal weight to conflicting perspectives, or should I cease collaboration with the individual whose values diverge from mine? This dilemma led me to confront the tension between maintaining journalistic objectivity, and whether or not it should be a prerequisite for truth-seeking and upholding personal values.

According to a PBS Standards article, one issue with reporting both sides is that it can lead to the creation of false equivalences. This term refers to when a person portrays two sides of an argument as equivalent even when one relies on factual evidence and the other does not. For instance, despite the consensus among a majority of scientists that human activity impacts climate change, some individuals still attempt to balance this research with arguments from climate change skeptics.

Ironically, doing “both-sided” journalism can also lead to the creation of biases in the newsrooms, by questioning the ability of some journalists to cover topics about their own communities. Journalists from marginalized communities are often not considered able to share opinions about a controversial topic they might have an intimate knowledge of. 

In an interview, Dr. Crittenden gave the example of a Black journalist who hadn’t been allowed to cover an issue related to racism, because of a tweet she had posted about the topic—something that her editor perceived as a bias.

In other cases, newsrooms can view journalists from underrepresented groups as token “resource persons” who should exclusively cover topics about their communities, which sometimes pushes reporters into sensitive situations when it comes to covering “both sides.”

In an article, journalist and president of the board of directors for NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists Ken Miguel qualified an interview he had to conduct with a lawmaker opposed to same-sex marriage. This experience, apart from affecting his mental health, pushed Miguel to question the fairness of reporting the arguments of this lawmaker, which sometimes contradicted statements made by the medical community in debates such as gender-affirming care for trans youth. Instead, Ken Miguel suggests focusing on the importance of grounding reports in facts, rather than automatically giving too much credit to the opposing point of view.

These ethical questions led me to think of a more nuanced approach that prioritizes accuracy while reporting the news, with emphasis on contextualizing each piece of information and being transparent. It also encourages a diversity of storytelling by including more underrepresented groups in the newsrooms. There isn’t a universal solution to make journalism more ethical, but the work methods and conditions of the people making the news is a good place to start. People shouldn’t be forced to cover what they don’t feel comfortable reporting about. 

Coming back to my initial photojournalistic ethical dilemma, I decided to stop working on the project that included that first person who was pushing me to take their side while they were being accused of harassment by the other person I had published the photos of. After torturing myself for days with the dilemma, I concluded that it was the best option.

 I realized that it wouldn’t have felt right to keep working on these two projects and remain neutral and objective when it was challenging my ethics so much. I believe that it would’ve not only negatively impacted my work, but also my mental health, which probably wouldn’t have led to the newsworthy project of the year. This is why: I don’t want to do “both-sides” journalism (at least, not always).

Arts Photo Essay

Portraits of an emblematic figure of Montreal drag scene: Bambi Dextrous

For the ninth Monday in a row, drag queen Bambi Dextrous hosted a Trivia Night at The Diving Bell Social Club on Saint-Laurent

It is around 8:30 p.m. and The Diving Bell is full. Bambi Dextrous — a drag queen for over 10 years — has just arrived to greet the participants. As she stands next to the bar, we improvise a photoshoot before she goes on stage.

Before the quiz begins, the drag queen likes to introduce each Trivia Monday with a traditional lip-sync performance.

After the show, time for reflection. Our host gets ready to enumerate the questions that she tailor-makes for each quiz night.  

Forty general knowledge questions later, Bambi Dextrous gives the audience a last performance before announcing the winning team.

Sitting under the stage, I try to capture as many movements, facial expressions, and colours as possible.

It is almost midnight when Trivia Night comes to an end and Bambi Dextrous invites me into the dressing room to take some final pictures. In this more intimate environment, I get to learn more about this multidisciplinary artist who combines passions for modeling, make-up, or acting in front of the camera. Beyond drag, Bambi Dextrous hopes to develop her acting career as well.

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