Politics? Thanks, But No Thanks

For the last five or six years my father has encouraged me to run for office. Any office. Just run. You’d be so good at it, he says. The opportunity presented itself recently…and I turned it down. I’m not particularly averse to the idea, but as a journalist it just wouldn’t be right.

The short version of the story goes like this: A colleague of my mother’s here in Medford heads up the local county organization for one of the major political parties—which shall remain unnamed. She mentioned to my mom that the party needed some younger faces and ideas, and that I might make a great addition to the somewhat stale and fusty collective of career politicians currently in place. Two days later I found myself on the phone with this woman and thinking, “Maybe my dad was right. I would be good at this.”

Not that the position was terribly noteworthy or influential. I was being asked to put my name on the primary ballot for a party position as one of two district representatives in my district of Medford. The job description includes voting for the party’s municipal and county chairs, attending party functions and three meetings a year, selecting and endorsing party candidates, and generally informing the district citizenry about issues affecting the party. It’s an unpaid commitment of about five hours each month.

It’s also seen as a way to get one’s feet wet in the pond of local politics. According to some of the campaign literature I was sent, “Being a member of the local political parties is a great entry into politics. Often times, candidates for mayor, council, freeholder, and persons to fill legislative vacancies are chosen from amongst the committee members. Community residents who are simply interested in gaining experience, visibility, and influence over policy making in their town should definitely take advantage of these positions.”

All of this sounded really intriguing. Not only was I fascinated by the possibility of gaining deeper insight into local politics, but it also struck me as an opportunity to more actively participate in the future direction of my township (which is in serious need of direction right now). But after giving it a day’s worth of thought and consulting with a few close friends, I came to the conclusion that even this seemingly insignificant political position would inevitably jeopardize my duties as a journalist.

I suppose it shouldn’t have taken me that long to decide. After all, I teach a media ethics course at Rowan University. One of the topics we constantly discuss is conflict of interest, and Nick DiUlio the Journalist would most definitely have a conflict of interest with Nick DiUlio the District Representative. I certainly wouldn’t be able to blog about my political experiences here on Southern Scene. And let’s say some scandal erupted in Medford. Like, I don’t know, the mayor allegedly being blackmailed by a male escort. How could I possibly report on that story as an objective member of the media while also holding onto even the most tenuous thread of public allegiance to a particular political party? I couldn’t. End of story.

It’s a shame that my work as a journalist prevents me from engaging in civic experiments like this one. Not because I have any grand notions of becoming the next Abraham Lincoln or Barack Obama, but because political engagement—especially on the local level—is vital in a representative republic. However, I don’t want to lament the restrictions of my profession too much, because it also allows me the pleasures and freedoms that can only come from the imperative of objectivity.

Sure, I’d probably make a damn good district representative—but I’d much rather be a damn good journalist.

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