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Advocacy Journalism

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Laurel Sallie

on 10 December 2013

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Transcript of Advocacy Journalism

Advocacy Journalism
A Brief History of
Advocacy in Journalism
Alternative Outlets
and Resources
Belinda Alzner
"There’s a consensus among journalists
that this is okay, to an extent,
so long as it doesn’t
distract you from or take
the place of your real job
– covering events."
Michael Ostroff
“The most significant difference between documentary and journalism is that good documentary filmmakers come with a point of view. They have something to say, and use their craft as filmmakers . . . to make a point. They don’t feel the need, as journalists do, to interview side A and then interview the opposing side.”
-Printing press, literacy
-Newspapers are mostly partisan publications
-War of Independence in
-Tools of the government
-Pro-federalist bias in newspapers of 1780s helped lead to ratifying
the constitution
-Advocacy journalism?
Early 1800s
-Beginning of 'penny press' era
-Newspapers become for-profit commodities
-Characterized by 'yellow journalism'
-Human interest, sensational, headline-seeking stories
-Advocacy journalism?

The New York Times
- Declared commitment to objectivity
and reason
- Swing toward relevant and
informative journalism?
-Inverted pyramid style – initially in
case telegraph lines cut in war
-Sensationalism still dominated industry, but a more sobering, informative style had emerged supposedly for wealthy/
-Was pendulum swinging in favour of informative
-When the war hit, objective style was no longer satisfying the masses.
-Objectivity presented only facts without commentary or colour.
-Parallel to the rise of radio and TV, advocacy
journalism illicited more emotion and action

Pre-World War I
-Struggle for balance between entertainment, and objectivity as well as partisanship and advocacy had emerged
-Mix of info, propaganda, advocacy, sensationalism.
(Are propaganda and advocacy the same? Sensationalism & propaganda?)
World War I & II
CLIP: http://www.nfb.ca/film/is_the_Crown_at_war_with_us/
Vulture - Kevin Carter
“The photograph became famous. Kevin became notorious. It seemed the world was not ready to accept the journalists’ dilemma — whether to be a witness or a saviour.”

-Both wars were affected by changing media outlets and styles
-Live radio and the beginnings of television produced broadcasts that elicited more emotion from its audience (live partisan debates, video of warfare)
-London Blitz, 1940. American journalist Edward R. urrow:
- rejects the notion of objectivity in journalism and embraces an open and transparent bias instead
- gives preferential coverage of one side of a debate/issue
- advocacy journalists not restricted to observer role: they try to affect change through their work
Example: A large public expenditure project will usually have detractors and supporters. The work of a media outlet that exclusively covers either the benefits or negative consequences of the project could be considered advocacy journalism.
Other examples: journalism that supports a specific cause
“Classic tenets of journalism call for objectivity and neutrality. These are antiquated principles no longer universally observed (...). We must not feel bound by them. If we are ever to create meaningful change, advocacy journalism will be the single most crucial element to enable the necessary organizing.” - Dave Berman, Independent Media Center
Tavis Smiley
Cornel West
Why advocacy Journalism?
- be truthful, accurate and thorough
- don't fabricate or falsify anything: this will destroy the credibility of your cause, and of yourself as a journalist
- don't use quotes or facts out of context; don't suppress vital facts or use half-truths
- you must be appropriately critical of your cause and its supporters (report what you see even if it is embarrassing)
- don't give equal space to your opponents but don't ignore them either
- mainstream journalism
criticized for being unbalanced, for claiming objectivity while unknowingly propagating biases

- advocacy journalism
criticized for not being 'real' journalism and embracing editorialization, for presenting opinions as facts, misinforming people and therefore undermining the reliability of mainstream journalism
-Propaganda and advocacy were deeply embedded in World War I & II, aiming to demonize the enemy, elicit patriotism and even as a recruitment tool
-Joseph Goebbels - Minister of Propaganda
-Many stakeholders, victims, villains and destruction, so there had to be enough outlets to report both the cold facts as well as advocacy and embellishment that elicited a sense of nationalism, or even fear.
Modern Era
-Advocacy journalism has continued to play a role in giving voice to minority groups or in human rights crises and natural disasters
-Coverage of confrontations between Native Canadians and government leaves a big role for advocacy (Alanis Obomsawin)

Internet Infinity
-Unprecedented accessibility to news outlets
-Unprecedented simplicity in publishing opinions and articles (twitter, bloggers, youtube)
-"Donate to relief efforts by texting Haiti to 110111"
-More avenues to advocate, but also to embellish, fabricate and propagandize
Sue Montgomery
"Journalists are trained to be observers; to not get personally invested in their stories. But what if, faced with extreme circumstances, you overstep your boundaries as a reporter and lend a helping hand to those less fortunate?"
"And the stories were never ones
that I could keep at arms length,
as I would in Montreal.
I became known in my newsroom
back home as a one-woman
humanitarian organization."
"...reporting those stories that the mainstream ignores — or only covers through a limited lens."
What makes good Advocacy Journalism

• It’s passionate, well written and engaging
• It’s accurate
• It's fair
• It’s corroborated
• Named and accountable sources
• In-depth, accurate interviews
• Asks tough questions


• Temptation to exclude or minimize opposing perspectives
• Encourage vigorous debate
• Separating reporting from editorializing


Does journalism inherently have an advocacy element to it? Do you see yourself as doing advocacy when you report?

• Commitment Ceremony vs. Civil Union
• Transvestite vs. Transgender vs.Transsexual
• The other “f-word”
• Using the word “gay” to describe a woman
• Change of gender
• Men who have sex with men, or MSM

"Good advocacy journalism is not weak. At its best it’s … powerful enough to inform a public and inspire change."
Cornel West
Full transcript