Filed under: J840 Week 3, J840 Week 4, Society + Media | Tags: advocacy reporting, farm crisis, Jason Whitlock, journalistic ethics, New Journalism
Coming of age in the 1980s, I knew journalists had power. I watched them topple a president. And I wanted to be one. I landed a “real” job—a general assignment reporter in rural Western Kansas.
One of my first assignments was the theft of a teen’s rodeo gear. It was a 45-minute drive through Kansas wheat fields to where the Earth starts to curve just to get to the teen’s family farm. The teen and his best buddy greeted me. Even though they were barely past 17, they had already been up since sunup helping the family make ends meet. His rugged, sunkissed face broke into shy pride when he showed off his horse and gear. What was missing was what hurt the most. He needed a certain saddle and ropes to ride the circuit, and someone had taken them out of his pickup.
The story I was supposed to write was a routine theft report. But I decided to become his advocate. The story was about the dreams of a teen boy holding onto hope in the midst of the farm crisis. Two days later, his gear was mysteriously returned.
I had moved from hard journalist to journalist advocate. Traditional journalism say just the facts. “New journalism” gives room for a journalist voice to help tell the story. I think my story was stronger with my voice. But I wonder if I fell victim to becoming attached to what you report. What do you think? Would the story have been better and fairer if just the facts had been reported? Although I don’t compare myself to Jason Whitlock, I think his column on Todd McNair is another example of advocacy.
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