The most crucial unelected actors in any democracy are journalists. Referred to as the Fourth Estate, journalists serve the people by making sure they’re informed about decisions and events that impact their lives.
Recently, after an editor at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School newspaper went on CNN stating that journalism is a form of activism, debates began to swirl on social media. Josh Kraushaar from the National Journal tweeted, “Journalism isn’t activism; it’s presenting the facts, honestly and objectively. It’s this mentality that’s killing trust in our profession.”
While it is true that trust in media has decreased in the past few years, history shows that reporting and activism aren’t mutually exclusive.
Journalism in the United States emerged as a campaign for American independence, and the creation of the First Amendment in the constitution was to establish the press as a key component to manifest the concept of freedom. The very origins of journalism are essentially a form of activism.
Ida B. Wells, who is considered one of America’s most prolific investigative journalists, started an anti-lynching campaign in the 1890s and used her journalism skills to report on the lynchings of African-Americans across the South.
How could a reporter, documenting the terrorism that black people were subjected to during the era of lynching, remain completely objective?
“I don’t think what we’re taught about objectivity is honest,” Florida A&M University School of Journalism and Graphic Communications (FAMU SJGC) Alumni Sean Blackmon said. “What it presumes is that when you write about something, you’re not supposed to have an opinion, you’re not supposed to have your own feeling about it. I don’t think that’s possible.”
Blackmon, who served as Editor-in-Chief of Journey Magazine in 2009 and now hosts a radio show “By Any Mean Necessary,” said his entry into activism was a direct result of the radicalization of his politics. His radio show is an example of the intersection of activism and journalism; its mission is to highlight social-political movements around the world and uplifting voices that aren’t typically given a platform in mainstream media.
“I think it’s perfectly okay to have your own perspective and opinion on what you’re writing,” Blackmon said. “I just think you should be honest about what that slant is. Let’s not pretend that this information doesn’t make us feel anything.”
Nallah Brown, a third-year broadcast journalism student, also believes that journalism can be used as activism. She has covered social movements, like the Women’s March in Tallahassee, and wrote editorials on black consciousness in America to showcase the importance of being socially and politically aware.
“That’s why advocacy journalism exists, it’s a way to support a specific point of view on an issue while still being fact-based,” Brown said. “I use my platform to promote what I stand for, and that entails specific movements and politics.”
In essence, to be a journalist is to be an advocate for truth. One truth we must grapple with is that our society is far from perfect and there is much progress to be made. The issues that capture the attention of the masses and how journalists decide to frame these issues can translate into tangible changes being made, for better or worse.