Time For Journalism To Give Up Myth Of Neutral Perspective

I am very interested to hear more about how the case of the PEI journalist who was ejected from the Press Gallery for being an advocate

Commentary on Who’s a journalist? P.E.I. human rights case may have some answers

By Sherwin Arnott – Journalism’s stated mission is to act in the public interest. That implies that the press has a duty to challenge centres of power: thus the saying, “as journalism goes, so goes democracy.”

Therefore the best journalism is a kind of advocacy.

I would actually argue that all journalism is advocacy, but there are obviously stronger and weaker versions of this thesis. But even the weaker versions will need to see journalism as a variety of advocacy, sometimes.

It’s time for journalism to let go of the myth of a neutral perspective, or a view from nowhere. What is this, the 1950s? Hello 2013. Really, I think it’s generational, but it’s also a matter of privilege. 

Some people still pretend that the full disclosure of where we’re coming from detracts from our objectivity.

The flip side of this is that many modern readers are, rightfully, more trusting of writers that are comfortable disclosing their interests and perspectives. This is partly why articles by environmentalist, social activists, policy wonks and advocates, in general, are often more journalistic and have more integrity than articles written by reporters and columnists who are: a) cagey, b) actively hiding their interests, c) failing to disclose their assumptions, d) aligning their values with commercial supporters, e) working to avoid alienating centres of power, f) lacking expertise and therefore result to he-said she-said reporting and fail to take a stand.

Jay Rosen, and others, have suggested that instead of seeing people who are or aren’t journalists, we should try to understand in what contexts people act as journalists. That is, people have journalistic moments. Even people who aren’t professional journalists, have journalistic moments.

The beauty of this approach is that it also explains the all-too-common sense that a certain reporter has failed to be journalistic in a given article.

As the professional press shrinks, and in-house comms teams grow (think of NASA, TED talks, municipal political bloggers and the IPCC) we had better expand our understanding of what journalism is. The press may shrink, but journalism must not. Not if we care about democracy.

Biography
I’m into design, communications, thinking about journalism, structural bias, epistemology and politics. Co-founder of a small design and communications company and a personal blog at www.sherwinarnott.org. MA in Philosophy. Find me on Twitter: @sherwinarnott

Used with permission.

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