Last year, when the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments in a case challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, some journalists were joining friends and family in changing their Facebook profile avatars to the red equal sign in support of gay marriage.
Some editors and reporters who worked for me at the time joined in, and it sparked a discussion among the top editors at our company. The near-unanimous consensus was that it was inappropriate for journalists to overtly take sides on a public policy issue that they might end up covering. I was in the minority in this discussion, but completely understood and respected the point. Maybe if the equal sign logo didn’t have such a campaign lawn sign-like feel to it, if support had been more subtle, the thinking would have been different.
I’m not sure what the consensus was at other media companies at the time, but I’m guessing pretty similar.
Fast-forward a little more than a year, to the hours following the Supreme Court’s historic ruling that gay marriage is legal in all 50 states, and suddenly, media outlets seem to be taking a very different approach.
Newer national online media outlets such as Buzzfeed, Huffington Post and Mashable, which all changed their Twitter avatars to rainbow themes Friday, were perhaps never as resolute as legacy media in trying to be “objective” about the gay marriage issue, but today are stridently taking sides.
“We firmly believe that for a number of issues, including civil rights, women’s rights, anti-racism, and LGBT equality, there are not two sides,” Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith told Politico.
New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, who has long criticized what he calls a “view from nowhere” misguided attempt at objectivity by media outlets, praised the direction they took in handling news of the Supreme Court’s decision Friday.
The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and its online news outlet, PennLive.com, are taking it much further.
In an editorial posted shortly after news of Friday’s Supreme Court decision, they announced that letters to the editor opposing gay marriage would be treated the same as letters suggesting that black people should not be allowed to vote or marry someone from a different race – thrown in the trash:
“As a result of Friday’s ruling, PennLive/The Patriot-News will very strictly limit op-Eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage.
These unions are now the law of the land. And we will not publish such letters and op-Eds any more than we would publish those that are racist, sexist or anti-Semitic.
We will, however, for a limited time, accept letters and op-Eds on the high court’s decision and its legal merits.”