Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei told employees Monday they can join Black Lives Matter protests, crossing what is usually a stark line stopping journalists from demonstrating or holding public opinions on contentious social issues.
“First, let me say we proudly support and encourage you to exercise your rights to free speech, press, and protest. If you’re arrested or meet harm while exercising these rights, Axios will stand behind you and use the Family Fund to cover your bail or assist with medical bills,” VandeHei said in the email, sent to the news site’s staff of just under 200 and first obtained by the New York Times.
VandeHei told TheWrap Tuesday, “We haven’t changed our policy on demonstrations by reporters. We trust our colleagues to do the right thing, and stand firmly behind them should they decide to exercise their constitutional right to free speech.”
He added that the company hires people it trusts and those people have demonstrated “superior judgement” through the recent protests.
“We’ve talked about these subjects candidly and constantly, long before this moment,” he said.
Journalists have long gone to great lengths to avoid the appearance of partisanship. Some, like CNN’s Jake Tapper, are open about not even voting in races they cover.
Social issues, however, affect journalists in their personal lives and even professionally, as the recent unrest over police brutality and systemic racism has proven. For instance, covering George Floyd’s death and the ensuing nationwide protests has been challenging for journalists, especially those who find themselves on the front lines. In several alarming instances, police have appeared to specifically target reporters in the field. For black journalists, the burden is doubled: Not only are they reporting in risky situations, but it “hits closer to home,” National Association of Black Journalists president Dorothy Tucker told TheWrap last week.
Reaction to Axios’ unusual allowance, however, was mixed. While investigative journalist John Solomon said this is yet another sign “the rules in journalism aimed at neutrality are changing,” President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign manager Brad Parscale wrote, “I’m old enough to remember when reporters covered the news, not took part in it. Journalists as political activists. This is objectivity?”