The politics of the poppy

Alyssa Mosher - From the Editor (Tom Bateman/AQ)

It was another busy journalism class and, once again, Jan Wong was running out of time.

“And before I forget,” she said, with five minutes left in class, “We need to talk about poppies.”

Everyone stopped in their tracks. I raised my eyebrows and looked towards our web editor Shane Magee, one of the few people I know who seems to have a poppy for every shirt.

Jan proceeded to tell the class that it was okay if we wore a poppy for personal reasons, but we shouldn’t as journalists.

What?

I suddenly felt embarrassed and awkward for the poppy I had strategically stuck through the fabric of the zipper on my leather coat.

“A poppy is a symbol,” she said, and as objective journalists, we shouldn’t wear one.

I think most of my classmates were as shocked as I was – after all, television journalists always wear poppies on air – but no one spoke up.

***

I’ve always known that objectivity is the foundation of journalism. As journalists, we have to be fair, accurate

and avoid inserting opinions in our professional work (don’t worry, columns are different).

A few weeks ago, Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic wrote about that in his article “Stop Forcing Journalists to Conceal Their Views From the Public.” Friedersdorf specifically writes about freelance journalist Cailtin

Curran, who was fired from her job with the NPR station WNYC for attending an Occupy Wall Street protest and holding a sign that, according to Friedersdorf, stated fact.

Her boss called her up and fired her on the spot, saying she had violated “every ethic of journalism.” As a journalist, it was her job to prevent “the perception of bias” and she had failed.

Friedersdorf touches on “The View from Nowhere,” a critique on journalism by NYU professor Jay Rosen. Rosen thinks it’s crazy, and in the end corrupting, for journalists to feign viewlessness, as if we don’t have opinions and we have to be neutral or else we’ll be fired, as in the case of Curran.

Don’t get me wrong, journalists have to keep their biases out of their work. And yes, the last thing we want is to be judged by our ideology (that’s why most of us avoid things like protests).

But why would “preventing biases” be a rule if we didn’t recognize that journalists have opinions in the first place?

***

In the last hour of laying out The Aquinian the week of Nov. 11, our photo editor Tom Bateman asked me if we were going to put a poppy on the front page. At first I thought this was a great idea. But then I froze.

Jan Wong wouldn’t approve, I thought to myself.

I replayed her reasoning in my head – objectivity, neutrality. I understood what she was saying, but I still couldn’t agree with her. We’re talking about a poppy, here.

To me, it’s always a personal choice to wear a poppy. I don’t judge people if they do or don’t – although I do think you should.

The poppy is a symbol – it is. It’s about remembering those who died for the two great wars of the 20th century and maybe it can translate to the wars of today and those, too, who have lost their lives. But it doesn’t have to be about glorifying war or supporting all conflicts; it’s just about supporting the men and women who put their lives on the line or paid the ultimate sacrifice.

After all, where would any of us be if it wasn’t for them?

***

My brother joined the navy two and- a-half years ago. He’s a communications technician, so he shouldn’t be caught in the line of fire, but you never know.

It’s weird to see him in parades in Halifax, walking all straight and stern. But I’m also kind of proud when I do.

I grew up attending Remembrance Day ceremonies and always thought I should. I continued the tradition when I moved to Fredericton four years ago.

I’m not sure if it’s pride or sadness or even anger, but every year since my brother joined the forces, I can’t help but tear up on Nov. 11.

But what’s wrong with that?

Even for a journalist.

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  • Show Comments (1)

  • HayekAttack

    I rather you wear your bias then hide it. The great tragedy is this professor is teaching you to think you are actually able to be objective. The cult of objectiveness has its own drawbacks.

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