For some, like Anderson Cooper, who confirmed longstanding rumors this week that he’s gay, putting the story first is always their concern.
While the reasoning is valid, particularly in reporting in countries where homosexual acts are criminalized, it sets an unfortunate precedent — and a questionable example: namely, that in order to be a successful journalist, one must wall off his/her personal life. That if you don’t, it’s difficult to be unbiased, to be safe or to get those tough stories.
In some ways, this is not unlike the question sometimes posed about openly LGBT judges: How could they possibly interpret the law fairly when they are part of a group that might be impacted by the law? How could a journalist possibly cover a story about or impacting LGBTs if that person is LGBT?
Except that it’s done all the time. Journalists routinely cover stories that impact them indirectly and directly. In some cases, it merits a disclosure. (As in, full disclosure: This writer was formerly in an opposite-sex relationship. That doesn’t even seem relevant. It seems ridiculous.)
There’s ongoing debate still among LGBT and mainstream journalists and media outlets over how and if one can cover a story as an LGBT reporter if the story impacts the LGBT community. Some reporters have been pulled from stories because their editors felt they might be biased on a story about same-sex marriage. Which doesn’t account for if a heterosexual journalist who opposes same-sex marriage is placed on the story. Then you have bias of a different sort.
Either way, it assumes that an LGBT journalist might not be professional when it comes to LGBT issues, which is insulting on several levels.
Consider this: If there is a particular story that impacts or affects another minority group — African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans — one doesn’t assume that you’d get better coverage by finding an outsider to report on it. In fact, the opposite is true: It’s expected that a member of those groups would have better access and sensitivity, which would likely result in a better story.
When it comes to issues of access, reputation goes a long way in this business. If a journalist has built a reputation of careful, fair, accurate reporting, regardless of orientation, it’s likely that he or she will continue to provide careful, fair, accurate reporting.