I was fuming about an article I read on Facebook today. Someone I don’t know posted a link to an article about journalism on one of my “friend’s” pages.
When it popped up on my news feed, I clicked on it like any nosy Facebook user.
It led me to an article I didn’t necessarily agree with—to put it lightly.
Actually, I thought the article was awful. It was insulting. It represented a view that was completely illogical, in my humble opinion, and I thought the writer was out of line.
How could she think that way? How could she say those words?
She represents everything that is wrong with the industry, with America, with mankind, I thought, and I was ready to tell the world.
Angry thoughts boiled in my mind ready to spill out onto the comment box.
I’ll write my own post to set the record straight, I thought. I’ll say what I want to say and tell the world what I know is right, and then everyone will see that I am right, and she is wrong.
Then I remembered that I work for a newspaper. I internally grumbled as I moved my mouse from the comment box to the little red “x” at the corner of the page and closed my laptop.
Working for a newspaper means sometimes I can’t have an opinion—or at least I have to watch what I say. Most of the time, I understand that it’s important for reporters to be “unbiased” about certain issues. It inspires less anger in the community when we cover controversial topics.
But at times like this—these “Facebook post moments”— I sometimes resent my profession. After all, everyone knows that I have an opinion, so why should I hide what I believe? Why should I pretend I don’t side with one argument over another when we all know that deep down I do? Shouldn’t I say what I think? Everyone else does, and hey, it’s a free country.
As an advocate of free speech, I mulled over the issue all day. Then something occurred to me when I was driving home from work. That new Miley Cyrus song came on the radio. Yes, the same infamous song she “twerked” to (whatever that means) on the VMA’s Sunday night.
I don’t want to talk about Miley much because the thought of one more article about her this week makes me nauseous. But I have a point to make here.
Miley’s song “We Can’t Stop” is an obnoxious (albeit catchy) declaration of juvenile freedom, and one of the lines goes: “It’s my mouth I can say what I want to.”
That’s when it hit me. That “I’m going to say what I want without worrying about you at all” attitude is the real problem in our country. All Americans, including reporters, have the freedom of speech. But so many of us have translated the freedom to speak our minds to mean the freedom to disregard other people as human beings with thoughts and opinions that are just as valid and valuable as our own.
We take something good, like the freedom to express our point of view, and twist it until it can be used it as a weapon to tear someone down or ward someone off and discourage legitimate discussion. Our society tells us that we can never be wrong, so we close our eyes, cover our ears and don’t ask for a second opinion, and I’m just as guilty of it as you are.
Sure, there are days when I wish I didn’t have to worry about what I said on social media. There are days when I wish I could broadcast my opinions as front page news.
But at the end of the day, I’m proud to be a reporter who is able to step back and consider how my words might affect other people. I’m proud that my job requires me to have an open mind, and I’m proud to think before I speak or post.
The challenge of personal censorship often reminds me that holding my tongue takes more integrity than speaking my mind.