Hodge: Personal beliefs can have a place in journalism

Jayla Hodge

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.  

 Context: Last week ESPN journalist Jemele Hill issued a series of tweets condemning Trump as a “white supremacist.” The sports network was quick to denounce Hill’s actions, saying it did not agree with them. Hill, a co-host of “SportsCenter,” responded by posting an apology to the network, although she did not overtly apologize for expressing her “personal beliefs.” Jemele Hill is by no means the first media figurehead to criticize the president, but the backlash she received from ESPN has opened up discussion about whether personal ideology has a place in journalism.

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Jemele Hill’s twitter statements reflect an issue and view that is upheld by many other Americans as well as many of President Trump’s own actions. Social media can be an appropriate place to criticize political officials, if it’s through a personal account and it remains transparent that the views of the journalist do not reflect their employer networks. To maintain journalistic integrity, there are instances where principles must take precedent over professionalism.

The Society of Professional Journalism’s mission statement is, “to ensure that the concept of self-government outlined by the U.S. Constitution remains a reality into future centuries, the American people must be well informed in order to make decisions regarding their lives, and their local and national communities.”

It is not only free speech but Hill’s responsibility as a journalist to use her personal platform to voice her concerns and question the ethics of our leadership.  Hill’s journalistic objectivity is not in question, in fact, she is upholding these standards. Her comments were posted in a non-professional environment to help her maintain her journalist integrity.

Social media is a middle ground in the world of professional journalism. While journalist must still uphold a certain code of ethics and represent their networks, it is a tolerable platform to express personal views. Our president uses his social media platforms to be directly interact with his followers with little regard for appropriateness or of it is even factual. He often bashes anyone that criticizes him through twitter. This is a double standard.

As a journalist, Hill has an obligation to inform the public to/against potential harmful ideologies. Hill is also an African American woman, so speaking out against white supremacy will hold a different weight than, say, a white or male counterpart. 

Hill’s statements are not new or inaccurate. President Trump’s administration has staffed several proclaimed far right leaders like Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos. Many of President Trump’s actions and comments are evidence he does lean in support of white nationalism. His initial response to Charlottesville alone proves that he is often slow to condemn white supremacy and acts of terror. Those who do not wholeheartedly oppose white supremacy are silently supporting it.

Hill remains accountable for her tweets. She did release a tweet along with a statement from her employer network ESPN, stating she regrets that her comments, “painted ESPN in an unfair light.” She did not retract her statements. She still stands by her views and her tweets remain posted.  Hill’s only fault was not stating her views independently from the network.

Journalistic principals and moral obligations outweigh professionalism. Regardless of the controversy Hill’s statements do not break the code of ethics. It is not a journalist’s job to avoid controversy.  It is their responsibility to report the truth. To serve as watch dogs for the American people and call out injustices of our leadership.  Jemele Hill was doing just that.   

Columnist Jayla Hodge can be reached at letters@collegian and online at @Jaylahodge.