Journalism, at its core, follows several tenants: seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable & transparent.
But journalism is activism in its most basic form. When journalists cover voices of the poor, hungry or report on major corruption in government practices, they do so to stay true to reporting the truth. They give voices to the voiceless, as the old adage goes.
But that voice, that adherence to ethical principles, frequently manifests itself as activism. Laws change. Nixon resigned after Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered the Watergate Scandal.
Woodward and Bernstein, when asked, would not have said they “had it out” for Nixon. They simply reported the story because they recognized that the Watergate Scandal was significantly unethical. In a sense, activism.
The United States’ founding fathers shared a knowledge that the press was integral to a working democracy. They specifically noted in our First Amendment that, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..”
It’s true that journalism is a far cry from grassroots activism. You’d never find ethical journalists at any kind of political march participating themselves. If they are there, they’re covering the story.
Los Angeles Times national correspondent Matt Pearce puts it nicely, “Journalism *is* activism in its most basic form,” he wrote. “The entire basis for its ethical practice is the idea that a democracy requires an informed citizenry in order to function. Choosing what you want people to know is a form of activism, even if it’s not the march-and-protest kind.”
Journalists constantly pick what goes on the front cover. They choose whether or not to cover protests. They arrange a story in order of importance, and a town hall meeting that might expose some corruption, you can bet that will be at the top of the story. They are the ones who set the agenda in order to report truth.
In a sense, journalists are activists of truth. They choose to publish those stories about medical malpractice because they believe the public has a certain right to know.
They use the facts to purport that certain individuals are worthy of justice. They offer a check of democracy. They report on assignment regardless of whether or not it coincides with their personal views.
When it is said that journalists are activists, it means that journalists sacrifice their own opinions so the public can decide on its own.
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