J500 Media and the Environment

Advocacy Journalist vs. Public Opinionist by bethd

Advocacy journalism is not a pure form of journalist because it’s not objective, and objectivity is the one attribute that defines “journalism” from all other writing or speaking styles. There’s a difference between a “writer” and a “journalist.” Writers write because they have something to say, journalists write (or broadcasts) because they have something to share and/or inform with others through media. And although both may be gifted in similar ways, it’s important not get the two arts confused. For example, someone who writes a sport column about game predictions and play-by-play anecdotes is not a “journalist”—that’s a “columnist.”

What do these terms mean anyways?
Terms surrounding journalism, like objectivity and advocacy, are commonly used and people are often desensitized to them. That stated, I thought I should go Mr. Webster to revisits the definitions.

Advocacy journalism: journalism that advocates a cause or expresses a viewpoint
Objectivity: lack of favoritism toward one side or another

Hmmm…it’s difficult to express a viewpoint while lacking favoritism. What I found more interesting is a statement from the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics:

“Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.”

(Seriously, cut and pasted directly from the public document.)

What’s your opinion worth?
I do not deem myself an expert in the philosophical rhymes and reasons of ethical journalism; I’m in PR for goodness sake, but I am thoroughly educated in purposes of writing styles. I write in the PR capacity for clients everyday. After giving PR writing some consideration one could determine it to be advocacy journalism, but I am far from a journalist and I’ll be the first to admit it. However, I do consider myself a writer, take pride in my profession and have a significant respect for all writing styles. For all of those reasons, I hope the world of journalism remains untainted. The public deserves a (per the U.S. Constitution) and depends on genuine journalist to deliver unbiased, relevant information—-not an opinion. All of media will lose credibility when people begin believing all journalism is one-sided and skewed, which devalues all forms of writing/broadcasting—even advocacy journalism.

This original Ellen Horowitz illustration points out her difficulty with advocacy journalism.

This original Ellen Horowitz illustration points out her difficulty with advocacy journalism.

Beth Davis


2 Comments so far
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Some believe there are “objective journalists” who become advocates by not picking sides (http://www.arabwashingtonian.org/english/article.php?articleID=25&issue=3). These journalists “dispassionately” report the status quo without questioning why it exists, thus advocating it de facto.

Do you think this is fair? I wonder instead if journalism merely provides the mirror. If the public doesn’t like the reflection, they need to question the state of affairs.

Or do you think it’s the job of objective journalists to question and challenge that static image (and its priorities) for the public?

Cheri L.

Comment by CheriL

Hello Cheri-

Wonderful article—thanks for sharing.

I don’t consider covering a topic like worldwide child hunger “advocacy journalism,” instead, it’s a journalist selecting a topic that his/her audience will find of interest—because really, almost everyone is concerned will such a topic. Good journalist will provoke readers/watcher/listeners to think about issues in new ways; journalists have an obligation to cover every side of the topic, regardless of personal advocacy, believes or benefit—reader should be allowed to think about it in the shoes of every stakeholder.

In the article you shared, the topic is worldwide child hunger—-well no one is going to be support of worldwide child hunger, but there are many issue-influencers, decision makers and experts that have been analyzing the world hunger climate for decades that can analytically address the topic much better than journalist. The journalist needs to interview those people and report the information to the reader. Not only that, but there are most-likely a number of different hypothesis on the worldwide child hunger epidemic—the journalist should cover every side of the topic and then let the audience decide. It’s inappropriate for “journalist” to read a statistic in a survey and report of their opinion of a given stat.

Beth Davis

Comment by bethd

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