MONIQUE BATSON — Are journalists evolving enough to meet the current political climate?

Published 12:02 am Friday, March 4, 2022

The young woman at the Port Neches library Tuesday evening couldn’t have been more than 20 years old.
Holding crutches with one leg in a cast, she sat in a chair close to the poll volunteers for more than 30 minutes for a machine to become available. Her spot in line had been marked; but standing that long would have been painful, if not impossible.

Her machine became available as I was checking in. We paused for a moment so this young woman could stand with her crutches, receive her pin code, and make her way around the path of electronic machines close enough to the wall to make navigating without crutches hard enough.

Behind her, an adult pushed a chair so the young voter could sit as she cast her ballot.
Few things have been as inspiring as seeing this young adult disregard any pain she was feeling just to have her voice heard; especially when, statistically, less than 25 percent of registered voters participate in Texas primary elections.

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From the time my children were old enough to understand words, I’ve stressed the importance of voting.

While in elementary school, three participated in mock elections during a presidential race. I urged each before hand to learn about their choices before casting a vote. One selected the Democratic nominee, one selected the Republican nominee, and the youngest used the write-in option to vote for a cat.

A few years later, I picked my now-16 year old son up from school and brought him with me to the library on Election Day. The line snaked multiple times through the lobby and ended outside. For two hours, we waited in line. We went over sample ballots together and discussed what he had learned in school about the candidates he recognized.

And when we got to the machine, he was visibly excited to watch me cast my ballot.

But he didn’t. I moved him to the side of the partition where he could not see my screen.

When we got back in the car, he asked for whom I voted. And that’s when we discussed the value in the vote.

It was my responsibility to be there, but I was not obligated to disclose my choice to anyone else. Truth be told, I didn’t mind him knowing. But with social media becoming a breeding ground for political arguments, it was important he know he didn’t have to participate.

It’s something I’ve practiced for a long time, particularly due to my line of work. I’m going to have opinions; everyone does. But being able to pack them away and approach a political topic without bias is not difficult. I understand that even using language such as “however” can tilt an article.

And I’ve spent so long living by those guidelines that I never questioned them — until recently.

For well over a decade, there has been an online debate on whether or not journalists should vote. Are you being fair and impartial when you clearly have a preference?

We were taught to never show support in any way. When I take pictures at polling places, I’m careful to avoid anything that displays the sign of one candidate more prominently than another. When I write about a race, I avoid colorful segues. Everything is approached as if it has a template.

When I’m covering an event with a Christian invocation, I often bow my head out of respect but do not participate in the prayer. It has nothing to do with my religious beliefs, but instead a silent show that those who are not of Christian faith can trust in my work. And if a conversation around me turns political, I remove myself from it.

But recently I read this, written by a fellow journalist:

“Journalists who ‘don’t take sides’ when it comes to the fundamental humanity of people who are being targeted for political reasons are, indeed, taking a side.”

The way we present news is ever evolving to fit the needs of the public.

Perhaps it’s time journalists do, too.

Monique Batson is the Port Arthur Newsmedia editor and can be reached at monique.batson@panews.com.