Should I give my opinions in this blog?

That’s not a rhetorical question.   Do you find the essays and blog posts offered here to be interesting, challenging, and thought-provoking?

Do you feel welcome to participate and share your ideas and arguments?

Or does the In Box color the way you hear my reporting when I pivot and offer what is my best attempt at a straight, objective work of journalism?

These are all questions we’ve wrestled with ever since the In Box launched and became one of the most visited parts of NCPR’s website.

And it’s obviously a conversation that we’re revisiting in light of the Juan Williams mess.

Let me say bluntly that I see this as difficult, gray-zone territory for any journalist.

So I think about it a lot, wrestling with where the lines should be drawn, what’s in and what’s out-of-bounds.

My goal is to try to offer fact-based analysis, to remain open-minded to good counter-arguments, and to spark interesting conversations.

And I receive a lot of editorial feedback from my news colleagues at NCPR that shapes where my blog posts go.

The reason that this all works — in my head, so far — is that I’ve always been a fan of sincere argument and open debate.

I prefer conversation (and friendships, frankly) with people who disagree with me.

I love it when people force me to see things in a new way, or prove me wrong, or offer new and provocative facts.

I also try to come at issues in ways that don’t fall into ideological, left-right grooves, simply because that’s not how my brain works.

Read through a week of posts and you’ll find me wrestling with public employee unions, with environmentalists, with tea partiers and with government bureaucrats.

But at the end of the day, there’s no doubt that I sometimes lay out views that some people find contentious, controversial, or just plain loopy.

So what do you think?  Does all this add up to NCPR offering one more cool platform for public discussion and debate?

Is it a symptom of bias and blather?  Something in-between?

If you could sit in on an editorial meeting to shape how we approach this part of NCPR’s work, what would you tell us?

39 Comments on “Should I give my opinions in this blog?”

  1. I think the In Box should continue as is. I have no problem with your opinions being expressed as opinion nor do I think it necessarily colors your reporting. On the contrary you seem to be more sensitive to that than the majority in the media.

    My problem with the NPR/Jaun Williams affair is that NPR appears to feel that Juan has no right to express his personal view even when working elsewhere on different terms.

    Suppose for a moment Jaun had said the same things but rather than saying that he sometimes felt…, instead he said I know some, even many people feel… and then followed with exactly the same comments. Would NPR have fired him for acknowledging the existence of widely held irrational fears?

    Open debate requires open expression. NPR STOMPED on open expression and that in my opinion is censorship. Feel free to fire me as a listener if you don’t like my opinion.

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  2. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    I’d tell you to keep doing what you’re doing. I suppose that’s simplistic and vague, but I truly enjoy reading the In-Box precisely because I never know what I’m going to read here. Whether that be a particular issue you decide to address or an actual reply to your specific threads. And I find myself learning a great deal every time I come to this blog. So by all means, carry on my good man!

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  3. Brian says:

    I’d tell James that there is a difference. Juan was a news analyst and Brian is a reporter and bureau chief. A news analyst’s very job is to give opinions.

    That being said, I think the cat’s already out of the bag, Brian M.

    People have already made up their minds about you politically. Personally, I’d characterize you as moderately left-of-center, quite reasonable (no doubt more so than me), fact based, relentlessly trying to forge consensus and quite liberal in the classical sense of intellectual curiosity and open dialogue (not the contemporary political sense). Others might describe you differently.

    I’d definitely express your opinions deliberately and carefully but what’s already out there can’t be taken back.

    I like the In Box as it is. While there is a little bit of contention from time to time, it’s remarkably restrained for these political times. A little contention is sometimes need to get things done as long as a resolution is the ultimate goal. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, but breaking the eggs is only a means to an end, not the end itself. This blog tends to get the balance right.

    Besides, fewer opinions means more emptiness about horse race polls. =)

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  4. Pete Klein says:

    Brian Mann,
    I hope you realize I was just kidding in an early post related to Williams. At least I hope I was.
    Yes, please do continue. What you are doing is sparking some debate, even if we who post go off subject from time to time. But this too is the nature of debate/conversation. It’s the back and forth of idea that makes this interesting.
    Sure beats listening to the political ads we are being subjected to and the almost as bad reporting by alllllllll the TV stations.

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  5. Mervel says:

    I like the blog with your opinions rather than without them it is a better higher quality platform with your opinions.

    However given what happened to Juan Williams and what your NPR CEO said today and yesterday I do think you may run into problems at NPR with this sort of forum and with you expressing personal opinions on this blog regardless of how well thought out they may be.

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  6. tourpro says:

    Kudos for asking the question.

    I certainly appreciate knowing more about you as a person as it lends some context to your reporting. I’m not sure it’s possible to separate the person from the reporting – especially when it comes to very subtle nuances in tone. Happy to say, I don’t find your personal positions a factor in your reporting – but not sure everyone would agree.

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  7. Dale Hobson says:

    Brian siad–
    “A news analyst’s very job is to give opinions.”

    Not so. A commentator’s job is to give opinions. A news analyst’s job is to provide analysis and context for items in the news. That’s not the same thing as punditry. You can find the NPR code of journalistic ethics at this location:
    http://www.npr.org/about/aboutnpr/ethics/ethics_code.html

    Dale Hobson
    NCPR Online

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  8. John says:

    Yes. I think that when you chime in, it has a tendency to pull the discussion back to topic before it wanders into too much nuttiness.

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  9. Fred Goss says:

    Count me in. Yes, keep sharing your opinions and invited others to do the same…that’s what the blog is for IMO

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  10. Bret4207 says:

    It strikes me as odd that NPR or any news outlet should try and pretend it’s employees have no opinion, no desires or preferences. You and they are human, no more, no less. I see nothing wrong with this site as it stands. I would agree pretty much with Brian (no M) as to where you stand politically and I see nothing wrong with that. In my opinion it’s less honest to try and portray yourself as completely neutral than as a regular Joe that happens to have a bully pulpit.

    I don’t agree with you all the time but if I did that would make this a pretty boring place for me.

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  11. ADKWhaler says:

    I have no problem with opinions and advocacy in a blog. A blog is much different that a news story. I enjoy reading your work.

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  12. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Well, everyone is making nice today. That Juan thing really struck a nerve.

    I agree with the general fuzzy feeling being expressed here.

    About the Juan business; I don’t think it is so much about him having the opinion but more about how he becomes an enabler to the Fox network AND, come on, obviously he just doesn’t get it.

    Now, what about Cokie Roberts? Can we just have a disclaimer from NPR that anything she says is lame boilerplate Washington insider out-of-touch blather?

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  13. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Isn’t it interesting that the incident with JW being fired has diverted attention away from the fact that NPR and NCPR and Brian Mann actually try to be fair and objective– that they really care about that– and away from a network that works hard at skewing the truth, or from Joe Miller having a journalist held against his will for trying to root out the truth?

    They do it and we fall for it every time..hey! look at that! What? Over there! I don’t see it; what was it? Oh, never mind, you missed it. Oh, okay, what were we talking about?

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  14. BRFVolpe says:

    Keep going in the same direction. This is a blog. Not the same as an editorial. Yes, an argument, that tells us periodically when it becomes abusive and personalized. I follow it to become informed, to try to understand more sides of issues than only from my own perspective. And many times, I’m pleased to find that there are not just two sides to an issue. The journalist in Brian M’s entree often gives us just that fulsome panorama. And an invitation to all of us…”What do you think?”, that I appreciate. A lot of what’s here is open ended. That’s good. Folks who have to have the “right answer”, will gravitate toward blogs that preach to the choir. Your approach keeps the dialogue going, Brian M. Right on.

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  15. JDM says:

    Brian asks, “Should I give my opinion on these blogs”?

    Sure. If things don’t work out here, you may be worth $2 mil at Fox.

    I’m enjoying all you do, Brian.

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  16. Phil Brown says:

    Brian, it is a gray area. But it is not uncommon, especially these days, for journalists to report on stories and then go on TV or the Internet to offer analysis/commentary (Dale, I think the two are nearly inseparable). This seems to be acceptable if the analysis is fact-based, as you say, and non-partisan. And if the journalist has demonstrated his/her objectivity in reporting. The question is not whether you have an opinion, but whether you can set it aside and not let it interfere with your reporting. Just like a juror. I think your analysis and reporting have been fair. If your sources trust you to be objective, there’s probably no problem.

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  17. gromit says:

    JW’s problem was not that he had an opinion; it was that the particular opinion in question was a simple-minded ethnic stereotype.

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  18. newt says:

    So, Brian, how DO you feel about seeing people in Muslim garb when you flying?

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  19. Bret4207 says:

    I have to disagree with Knucks assessment of the reason NPR took the stance it did. It’s maintaining an APPEARANCE of unbiased reporting that’s important. NPR generally has a less liberal slant overall than, say, MSNBC, but it’s there nonetheless. You can only be as “unbiased” as your basic viewpoint allows. That’s just human nature and at the bureaucratic level an organization will only be as “unbiased” as it’s employees are, no matter how hard they try.

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  20. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Bret, just to be clear, I wasn’t trying to puzzle out NPR’s reasoning, I was making a more general statement.

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  21. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I would like to address the “Muslim garb” business. There is no such thing.
    There are many forms of clothing worn by many people across the “Muslim world”. Most of the clothing is ethnic in origin ranging a very wide spectrum from the vibrant patterned clothing in some African countries to the very plain “pajamas” of Afghanistan. The people of Turkey dress very differently than the people of Indonesia or Saudi Arabia or Detroit or Lebanon or Fremont California. Most of this “Muslim garb” was developed to meet the needs of a specific environment and the cultural identity of tribes, groups, nations.

    If by “Muslim garb” you mean a woman with a headscarf then most fashionable women in the US in the 50′s or 60′s were wearing “Muslim garb.” God commanded his people to cover their head and observant Jews, Muslims and many Christian sects keep that commandment.

    Brian, are you afraid of Mennonite women on a plane? Are you afraid of Jackie O?

    Most older Moslems in this country dress just like everyone else but there has been a shift among many younger Musselman. Like many Americans of African ethnicity in the 60′s many of the younger generations don’t feel the need to “identify” as Americans–they were born here, went to school here, played soccer and football, were cheerleaders, played in the band…they ARE Americans and they don’t need to prove it to you or anyone else, but they are wearing their ethnicity and cultural history proudly.

    They are saying “we are not them, we are you, but we are all different now; get used to it.”

    So now we have to get used to it. Like it or not.

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  22. Pete Klein says:

    I really wish people would never say, “God said.”
    It is really presumptuous to claim to have knowledge of what God said and to claim to have knowledge there even is a God.
    I claim to believe there is a Creator God but would not dare claim to know that what I believe is true.
    But the real problem with the claim of knowing what God has said is that everyone is supposed to jump back because this mere human has knowledge and you must bow to THEIR will.

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  23. Bret4207 says:

    “So now we have to get used to it. Like it or not.”

    I wish that worked both ways. Fly a confederate flag and see what response you get or put a Gadsden flag on your pickup window and see what response you get from the Homeland Security types.

    Bigotry or prejudice of all types and graduations is common among all people. Whether it’s some of my acquaintances that consider our local Amish ignorant subhumans that they refer to as “Jews of the North” (I said acquaintances, not friends) or the Black Panther members talking about killing white babies to those that feel somewhat uncomfortable around people in what they perceive to be Muslim garb or gangbanger garb or wearing an NRA jacket…why do we try and pretend these feelings, however mistaken or ignorant or simply irrational… people have these feelings and expecting otherwise is a self defeating process. You can try and change it through education but trying to force people into silence just seems to be the wrong way to fix the problem.

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  24. oa says:

    Brian,
    Keep opining. Gives context and makes you easier to read and respect as a reporter.
    Bret, confed flag is not a great analogy. Nothing potentially scary or alien about it; just signals someone is a fan of a failed state full of traitorous losers who weren’t manly or smart enough to win a winnable war. A joke, in other words.

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  25. scratchy says:

    I personally think that offerring questions and analysis, but not opinions, is the best way to go. And I would prefer more posts on local issues, and less on national horse race polls and the media.

    Now that I’m done complaining, good job.

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  26. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Well Bret sometimes we agree to a point. Except for the Confederate flag thing which represents a bunch of slaveholding traitors to the human race, if nothing else. Strangely my brother identified with the Confederates and he wasn’t a bigot or racist. I don’t get it.

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  27. Pete Klein says:

    The Confederate flag happens to be a really nice looking flag. Some people like it for its looks. Others see it as a Rebel flag and that appeals to many Americans, both North and South. Isn’t being a Rebel, an individual, part of being an American?
    The Confederate flag is not just about slavery. For many it stands for individual and state rights over the Federal government. I think this is why many people continue to like the Confederate flag. I think it is also about rooting for the underdog.
    I think it is simplistic to think the Civil War was just about slavery. It was but it was also much more. I think I would be making a safe guess if I were to say that most of those who fought and died in the Civil War, both in the North and the South, couldn’t have cared less if the slaves were freed or not.
    Everyone wants to be free to think, do and say whatever they want. The problem comes in when we disagree as to what you can think, do and say. There’s the rub.

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  28. Bret4207 says:

    Well done Pete, nice to see someone understands slavery wasn’t the primary issue in the Civil War. And those talking about traitorous people, etc, give a good example of perception being key to how you look at things. You all (not y’all- I’m a Yankee) have done no more than Juan did or anyone who feels uncomfortable with any group- you let your bigotry and prejudice show. Irrational hate? Maybe it’s not that strong, but it’s irrational non the less.

    Good thing you don’t work for NPR. Oh wait! That’s right, it would be politically correct to say THOSE things, just not the OTHER things.

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  29. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    If the idea of hating a symbol of slaveholding states makes me a bigot then I’m a bigot.

    The Nazi flag was beautiful as a piece graphic art. Maybe you respect the Nazi’s for their ability to mobilize their industry and people. Maybe you think that the Germans were an incredibly agile fighting force and you have respect for their abilities in science, technology, blah blah blah.

    Beautiful as it is the Nazi flag is still a symbol of evil. And the Confederate flag is a symbol of traitors to the United States of America. If you respect traitors to your nation fly it proudly.

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  30. oa says:

    Especially fly it if you respect traitorous losers, who should have won, but weren’t smart enough and were so cowardly they later paraded around in white hoods, bullying the weak. A joke of a flag, representing its cause perfectly.

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  31. Bret4207 says:

    Perception, and anger, and you’d get fired by NPR if the subject matter wasn’t politically correct and you stated your opinion. That’s simply doens’t make it right.

    And yes, I do respect those Confederates as fine American fighting men. Many of them served the US before and after the war in our military and with distinction. Small mindedness and a lack of historical perspective lead to many false assumptions about the whole matter.

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  32. Pete Klein says:

    knuckleheadedliberal you really shouldn’t have brought up the Nazi flag and by extension Germany.
    I say that because of the whole idea of casting the shadow of evil upon a whole group of people who just happened to be living in a particular place and a particular time slanders many.
    Are all Muslims evil just because some Muslims are evil? No. Of course not. But neither were all the Southerners and all the Germans evil just because the lived and fought on the side that lost.
    If you are going to understand the horror of war at all, you need to start by understanding the winners and losers were brothers in arms. Once war starts, lines are drawn and it becomes a crazy case of self defense by all sides.
    When Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg, he wasn’t limiting the blood shed to only the blood of the Union troops.

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  33. oa says:

    Pete,
    You’re right about not everyone living under a bad regime in a war is evil, but that’s not the discussion. It’s about flying confederate flags now, and that somehow people who glorify the symbol of traitorous losers 150 years hence are somehow victims.
    They’re not. They’re making a choice to glorify traitorous losers, and therefore open themselves to ridicule.
    And the war was about slavery, because the confederacy was about slavery. Read the confederate veep Alexander Stephens’ 1861 speech quoted in this blog post:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2009/04/the-civil-war-wasnt-about-slavery/16712/
    Here’s a taste of what Stephens said the fight was about:
    “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

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  34. Mervel says:

    The Confederate flag is considered offensive by most African Americans in the US, so regardless of how one feels or the historical details; why fly it?

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  35. Mervel says:

    Part of the basic PC problem with NPR is in my opinion if Juan Williams had said that about Christians NPR would be defending him against calls for his ouster by Christian groups. Thus I do think this has created a chilling affect and worse created an issue of editorial bias.

    So when Brian gives his opinions are some acceptable and some not? If no opinions are acceptable then I think this is fine and a rule of employment, it just needs to be consistently applied.

    Usually we make these things into big issues when in reality they are often more banal or mundane. The CEO of NPR is from CNN, CNN is not a big fan of FOX and a major competitor of FOX, she should have just admitted we don’t want Williams on FOX period, I think that is what this is all about.

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  36. Bret4207 says:

    Confederates are victims? Who decided that was said? No one said that. The war was about whether or not slavery should be allowed in new states admitted to the Union. In other words, it was about State rights. Read your history.

    Mervel, I find many aspects of American black culture highly offensive. With your post in mind, shouldn’t they also be silenced? Shouldn’t we outlaw anything and everything everyone finds even slightly offensive? Doesn’t make a lot of sense does it?

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  37. oa says:

    No, Bret, it’s people who fly confederate flags would be subject to bigotry of a sort.
    Anyway, this Juan Williams thing was a great all-time conservative hissy fit. It’s really just a pointless employment decision that will not affect any of us, at all, and yet we spent all this time on it.
    Meanwhile, Pete Grannis gets fired from DEC for a leaked memo about ACTUAL PUBLIC POLICY, the outcome of which will affect all of us LOCALLY, and we don’t bother discussing it.
    We’ve been punked. Way to go, liberal media! And way to go, Us, the idiots of the comment threads!

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  38. Mervel says:

    Bret,

    I don’t think anyone is talking about outlawing the confederate battle flag. People have a right to display it, I think particularly among white southerners who’s relatives fought for the confederacy it can have some meaning for them. I wonder why a white person in the North would want to display it though? It seems to me to be an in your face kind of gesture to African Americans. I just think out of common decency a person would not display it knowing the pain it evokes among the blacks in the US who are great grand kids of slaves. Just because something is legal and protected speech, does not make it moral. If an African American wears something that is patently offensive then I think they would be in the same immoral boat.

    What’s wrong with decency and civility now and then?

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  39. Stan says:

    A professor once asked the class. What should have happened to Robert E. Lee, after the war. I answered, “He should have been shot, like any traitor.” My answer caused a small uproar. The prof was shocked. I was shocked that they were. Racism lives and breathes in the USA.

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