I was almost a social psychology major at Northwestern. It fascinated me, our behavior as social animals. The Bystander Effect and the Milgram Experiment were the kinds of topics that I still think about, years later. What most struck me was cognitive dissonance and groupthink, when we become unaware of the subconscious decisions we take in an attempt to achieve a cohesive narrative about ourselves and others. These two together are particularly troublesome in a newsroom environment. Once a narrative takes hold, others from a newsroom are less likely to challenge the “conventional understanding” – especially if it’s approved by an experienced journalist or editor. At some point, the prevailing belief becomes an assumption that informs and shapes future narratives.
I read the news too and probably am not the only person to see that my opinions, ideas and beliefs are sometimes summarily dismissed or completely misunderstood. It’s what happens when your worldview is not part of the groupthink narrative. But hey, we’re all human.
So my 13 signs of encroaching politics within the work of journalists are in part based on my observations as a reader. With the lead-up to this week’s Election Day, I thought to have some fun with my very good-natured editorial colleagues:
1. Your stories are framed around the theme of “enlightenment vs. the forces of darkness”.
2. You really think your social media behavior is separate from your journalistic integrity and behavior. (“No, no, really trust me, it is.”)
3. Your social media avatar is a Confederate flag or an equals sign.
4. You tweet out post-election news with the hashtag #wewon or #TimetoMovetoCanada
5. You really think anyone believes you (or reads your bio) when you say, “RT’s are not endorsements”
6. You believe it appropriate to photograph a political candidate with monster lighting.
7. You believe it appropriate to photograph a politician from below looking heroically across the horizon to the promised land.
8. The opinionated quotes from others you place in captions or use to end stories are ones you keep in a private file called “small victories”.
9. You believe there is truth that everyone knows to be true, and people who disagree with it who are frankly kind of nutty.
10. The word “backward” somehow keeps finding a way into your stories.
11. Corruption and hypocrisy within the party you oppose is an affront to humanity and the greatest scourge of our country’s democracy. When it’s within the party you favor, your feeling is more conciliatory: “Oh, it’ll resolve itself soon enough.”
12. You believe anyone who calls you out on political bias must be incredibly biased themselves, with an agenda that can’t be trusted. (Especially the person who wrote this post).
13. You’re so very glad you don’t have any opinions or worldview, because you’ve evolved from that.