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Reporters Decide: To Clap or Not to Clap?

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Reporters Decide: To Clap or Not to Clap?

Obama speaks during a forum at the UNITY ’08 Convention (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Illinois Senator Barack Obama appeared in Chicago yesterday. The presumptive Democratic nominee talked about his recent travels abroad and domestic issues as well. But there was another key question going into yesterday’s event, not about how Obama would address the audience, but about how the audience would address Obama.

Unfiltered: Obama Speech from UNITY ’08

Obama’s appearance took place at the Unity Convention, which is a once-every-four-year gathering of minority journalists. That meant that the hundreds and hundreds of people that packed the convention hall to see him, were in many cases editors, reporters and other members of the media. And so before Obama even entered the room, the question was raised.

SHEPARD: I want to bring up the issue of journalists clapping for a candidate.

Alicia Shepard, ombudsman for NPR, posed the question a panel of reporters that was discussing campaign coverage.

To clap or not clap?

A question that hits on a few important issues. In general, journalists are discouraged from applauding and expressing emotion because it might betray their personal biases and lead to questions about their ability to be fair. Beyond that, there’s also the media’s reoccurring anxiety about whether it’s too nice or too hard on Obama, a conversation that’s been at full blast lately. When it came up yesterday, Columnist Les Payne delivered the most pro-clap argument, saying he’s seen journalist do it in other settings.

PAYNE: They clap for Bush. I mean, I’ve gone to many a meeting of the ASNE, American Society of Newspaper Editors, our bosses they all clap, they all stand up.

Karen Lincoln Michel, who heads the Unity organization, didn’t say it explicitly, but discouraged people from putting their hands together.

LINCOLN MICHEL: Most of us out here are students, journalists and media professionals. We all know you will act with the utmost professional decorum, appropriate protocol, and not express your political views.

A few minutes later, the forum was starting, the senator was ready to take the stage, and moment of truth had arrived.

MALVEAUX: So let’s bring on Senator Barack Obama.

ambi: applause

Obama found himself greeted with a nearly 30 second standing ovation. Which would later be topped by a 40 second standing ovation when he left the stage.

A side by side applause comparison with presumptive Republican Nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain isn’t possible. McCain turned down an invitation to speak at the convention citing scheduling conflicts.

I’m Ben Calhoun, Chicago Public Radio.

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