I definitely don’t want to sign that!

So I show up at a press conference in the blazing heat to get an update on an effort to gather enough signatures to put a controversial bill on the 2012 ballot as a referendum.

The bill is the “DREAM Act,” which allows illegal immigrant students who live in Maryland to pay in-state college tuition rates under certain circumstances.

We’re making small talk and waiting to get the show on a road, when a man comes up and hands me a clipboard and asks if I’ve signed it yet.

I think it’s a media sign-in sheet — a common practice at press conferences. Sure, I say, and pull out a pen.

As he handed me the clipboard, I took a look at the paper and realized I had made a mistake. “Oh no, I definitely can’t sign that!”

The clipboard had a signature sheet for the petition drive. Whoops. Reporters definitely don’t sign petitions, especially not petitions we’re writing about.

Why?

Well, all journalists certainly have our own political thoughts and leanings. But we try our best to keep them out of our news stories and in private.

It’s unethical — or at least improper — to campaign, donate to candidates, put signs in our yards and the like. Basically, public political acts are off-limits.

So that means petitions are off-limits, too — whether you’d like to sign it or not. (While votes cast on Election Day are secret, petition signatures are not.)

Luckily, I realized what it was before I signed and several folks had a good laugh at my expense. Live and learn.

An extra note:

For my readers who are not journalists, I encourage you to check out the Code of Ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists. It may help you understand some of the things that may seem odd about journalists, such as why we try to avoid freebies and favors, why we cover stories that are unpopular, etc.

Journalists don’t swear to the Code of Ethics like doctors do with their Hippocratic Oath. But it’s a good guide that most of us follow as we make decisions.

Heck, I’m not even a dues-paying member of SPJ, but I revisit the Code of Ethics frequently to remind me of my responsibilities as a journalist.

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