Journalism is about truth. At least it’s supposed to be. It involves investigation into the stories being reported. It requires us to dissect the facts objectively – even if they contradict our beliefs – and inform our readers of them. Another aspect of journalism ethics is establishing a narrative using facts to provide proper context. Through all of this, a journalist is required to maintain objectivity. But what then is a journalist supposed to do when witnessing atrocity?
The preamble for the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics states: “…public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.”
Integrity in journalism must advocate for equality and justice. In many cases, there are no two sides to a story. The free exchange of information should not include allowing the normalization of hatred and bigotry. We don’t “both sides” the enslavement of Black people, the American Civil War, the Holocaust, or the KKK. This does not mean we don’t investigate facts in search of contradictory evidence that challenges our personal beliefs. That we must.
However, despite the abundance of fraudulent evidence, racism, eugenics, and xenophobia are indisputably wrong. These ideologies were born of settler colonialism; of the exploitation of humans that have been “othered” by a white-dominated society. Contradictory evidence may add another element to any given story but, if that evidence is based on animus we should never give it unchallenged space. It must be explicitly referenced as inhumane regardless of context.
Questions surrounding the feasibility of unbiased reporting have been asked for decades. If we are to learn anything from our predecessors, some things are explicit – such as racism and bigotry. Not challenging those ideas does harm and allows them to spread. For more than 100 years, the US has allowed Klansmen to speak their truth without questioning them. So much so that the godfather of the modern-day KKK, David Duke, had enough support to run for office.
Many before and especially after Duke have successfully been elected largely due to not being adequately confronted. They may not be out-in-the-open Klansmen but their words speak to their beliefs; their truth. From Mitch McConnell and Jeff Sessions to Steve King and Donald Trump, the failure of journalists always becomes apparent when it’s too late.
It comes when they’ve already been granted power.
It seems that journalists, particularly in legacy media (with the largest audiences), would have learned their lessons from the past. But as the country continues to spiral out of control, too many reporters prefer to be dismissive of inarguable truths about extremism. They wait until it’s too late; for people to die before they focus on the social demise occurring in the US.
While many bemoan advocacy journalists for being biased, the truth is people in this line of work have an intended focus. For example, some fight for racial justice. Yet, I have never seen a case of manipulating facts or taking studies out of context to report on the issues with depth. Many of these journalists are investigative in nature and very analytical. Therefore, advocacy journalism may not be the appropriate terminology as opposed to investigative journalism.
Because journalists in this field are concentrated on a specific issue, they are often treated as biased. However, many have successfully argued that there’s bias in all journalism. Whether it be political, religious, or otherwise. As humans, it’s next to impossible to refrain from injecting implicit bias into our work which is why we must entertain contrarian views to make our point.
People don’t just say someone is a racist when they feel like it. They use a person’s own words to prove that point. For an anti-racist advocacy journalist, this is an important distinction. True journalists don’t take things out of context. In advocacy journalism, there is no need to. Even the conversation about abortion requires us to report the truth. That truth is based on science and it’s pro-abortion for a host of reasons. Many of which include saving a woman’s life.
Does that mean that honest journalists who expose lies and misinformation on the issue are pro-abortion? Of course not. Some, in fact, based on their faith, may be against abortion. In those cases, a journalist is considered objective. But an advocacy journalist who does the same thing is considered biased – among many other unfriendly things.
Everything an advocacy journalist does is built on truth. In-depth investigations into how much money police cost taxpayers every year in misconduct claims don’t make anyone anti-cop whether it’s me or someone on cable news. The difference is that no one in legacy media will address the problem because they want to maintain access to police across the country.
An advocacy journalist addresses these problems every day – not just when it’s good for ratings and ad dollars. We address the issues of today while corporate media upholds old white people who overanalyze political buffoonery. There are 11 million children in the United State that don’t know where their next meal is coming from yet, all we hear is non-stop political punditry.
The corporations that operate the legacy media you watch are the same corporations reaping record profits as they create a false sense of scarcity and price gouge us into submission. The same corporations are responsible for the financial wealth gap and the overpriced housing market. They refuse to loan money to non-white people and charge us more for everything.
If you can explain how current media standards aren’t biased, I welcome you to do so.
Bias in Journalism
If journalism is guided by five core principles (honesty, independence and objectivity, fairness, diligence, and accountability), then what would you call the standard by which legacy media operates? Independence and objectivity are defined by saying that journalists should avoid topics in which they have a financial or personal interest that would provide them a particular benefit, as that interest may introduce bias into their reporting, or give the impression of bias.
Corporate media is profit-driven. Therefore what they produce is content that can be dishonest or reporting that is incomplete. When talking about the growing extremism in the US, corporate media is guilty of dishonesty, incomplete reporting, and minimizing the importance of the issue. This is where it becomes apparent that objectivity is meant to maintain the status quo.
Objectivity is defined as “expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations.” However, much of what we see in legacy media is subjective. Instead of answering the most important questions and seeking pertinent answers, they allow guests to speculate on the most pressing issues.
Being objective is based on who is defining it. That means that the gatekeepers at legacy media and their corporate overlords have the power to dictate what is and isn’t objective reporting. If a reporter who is focused on police brutality exposes facts about how out of control police misconduct is in the US, that does not make them biased. It makes them diligent. If not for advocacy journalists, big media wouldn’t know what to report on.
The work we do exposes the truths about racial injustice, political suppression, state-sponsored attack on the public, the inhumanity of our immigration system and so much more. When legacy media wants to be right about something or pretend to be on top of any of the issues mentioned here, they rely on our work and often present it as their own. It happens all the time.
As journalists employed by corporations look down on those of us who do the real work and call us biased, remember that their bias is driven by money. Ours is driven by creating change. And if “objectivity” is defined by those same corporate overlords, then the “bias” in legacy media is to maintain the status quo. To appear as if they’re exposing the dark underbelly of the white power structures in the US while actually working to maintain them.
You can ask any independent advocacy journalist, including me, about how legacy media like to tell us “this isn’t a good fit right now” only to have someone in-house publish a similar story using the same sources. What many white journalists and gatekeepers do to present a good image of themselves is theft. It’s not just words they steal. It’s labor. It’s our intellectual property.
No, advocacy journalism isn’t biased. Certainly not more than profit-driven entities. What we do is expose injustice and present the truth using facts, data, and witness accounts.
What part of that isn’t journalism?
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