Some of our UMJ students just finished covering the first election of their young careers. Many may have also voted for the first time. That means that they will be viewing the democratic process from two perspectives: from the inside, as a participant, and from the outside, as journalists. It is not always easy to balance those roles.
I myself got to vote for members of Congress for the first time in 30 years. No, I have not been shirking my civic duty. But I spent three decades living in the nation’s capital, and DC has no voting representation in Congress. That is something folks outside the beltway may have forgotten. So my votes on Tuesday for a US Senator and for a member of Congress from Montana mark a big change for me. But those votes also make me a bit uncomfortable.
The truth is that as a journalist, I was never sure I wanted to vote. Washington Post editor Len Downie set the standard by refusing to cast a ballot, saying that was the only way to remain an impartial arbiter of truth for such an important paper. I did not quite go that far. I voted for local offices in DC, and for DC’s demi-rep Eleanor Holmes Norton. But I maintained an aura of objectivity and fairness by making sure no one could accuse me of taking any kind of public stand. And I did enjoy the one superpower I had as a journalist: I could slam the door when fundraisers and petition-gatherers came knocking, muttering that as a reporter I could not get involved in that stuff. Get off my lawn–I’m a journalist!
It was a handy way to remain above the fray, and out of the beltway shouting matches. But I am not a reporter any more, so I guess it is time for me to get myself some opinions. I am an academic, so perhaps it’s time to jump on some bandwagon. I am open to suggestions and have been searching Craigslist for options. ISO one strongly held opinion, along with a dog, a Subaru and some sort of hunting or fishing gadget so I can be a real Montanan.
J Dean Larry Abramson