Thursday, November 29, 2007

Did Rehema Ellis cross the line?



This week NBC Nightly News has been running a series of special reports on the status of African-American women.

Last night (Wednesday), the story focused on the number of single mothers in the African-American community.

Near the end of the report, NBC News correspondent Rehema Ellis, an African-American woman herself revealed that she herself is a divorced single mother with a young child.

In the tag (the live portion of a news report that followed the pre-recorded portion), she articulates her struggle with doing the series as a black woman.

I thought this was a bit odd for a reporter to step out of her role as a reporter and begin to reveal her own experience. I wondered if, in fact, she crossed the ethical line of reporting in an objective fashion.

It just so happens that we're doing an journalism ethics unit in BOTH of my classes this week. So, for my overwhelmingly female senior-level course for journalism teachers, I played the report.

The mostly female audience thought Rehema added a degree of authenticity to her report by first being a black woman and secondly providing that as a part of her story.

It brings to mind the whole issue of whether a person of color brings more authenticity to a story that focuses primarily on the experience of those from an under-represented racial group. Would an objective white male be able to see more CLEARLY what these women were saying -- by asking the TOUGH questions instead of commiserating with the other black women who have had trouble finding a mate.

As a single black male,I, personally, was troubled by some of the comments of the women in the piece. So, perhaps I am not in a position to OBJECTIVELY evaluate whether Rehema's link to this particular topic cROSSED The ethical line.

As I told my students today, by disclosing her own experience to viewers, Rehema, in fact, did let viewers know exactly where she stood in doing this report. That disclosure is important part of what we consider to be ethical way of doing journalism.

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