Politics

Opinion: Journalism is Activism and Diverse Newsrooms Know That

Did you see this piece of the Washington Post lawsuit?

It isn’t news that journalists have been burned by their “conformity.” You can bet that journalists know having a diverse newsroom improves story quality.

However, we forget how much these minority groups lose the second they put on a press pass.

It’s easy to say that newsrooms like the Post have navigated rough waters. Media sexual assault scandals are in the past, present, and likely future. Newsrooms underpay across the board, and journalists are overworked, according to this statistic.

New faces to media are even more malleable. The industry teaches you to be willing to do anything. (I still joke that journalism asks for an arm and a leg very literally some days.) Obviously, the phrase “willing to do anything” is an understatement.

If you are an aspiring front-page writer or on-air reporter, this gets worse. You work for free sometimes, or next to nothing in your news infancy. At your most prestigious and precious jobs, you may still be waiting tables.

So, journalists do what they do best.

Newsrooms make it a goal to diversify their “unbiased” spaces. Often, we advocate for our affinity groups in the room. In fact, these pushes extend from the most trusted to least trusted names in the news.

‘More women on air, people of color, and queer-identifying people.’

These journalists know that storytelling requires connection and collaboration. Having shared identity brings context and understanding to complicated stories. From police shootings to sexual assaults, the voices sharing the news become just as important as the actual story is.

But these moments of advocacy can extend outside of the office. Reporters can leave their spaces and work to make their communities more representative. They can say that Black lives do matter. They can say that Asian hate is intolerable.

After a year of misinformation, they can decry racism and sexism, and heterosexism with their chest.

It just might cost them their job and pin them “activists.”

This is journalistic bedrock but follow me down the yellow brick road. Journalism is always activism because the news seeks to improve its consumer. (Big thought incoming!)

When you produce news about police brutality, drugs and incarceration, sexual harassment in media, and any other story, you activate consumers.

Journalists tell you, for example, what the traffic looks like on the highway. That reporter isn’t telling you that information because they don’t care where you go. They want you to avoid the issue and improve your drive at the moment.

Meteorologists do the same thing. They track storms and weather chases to learn and aid communities. However, unlike most 7 AM traffic reports, meteorologists can also advocate for climate caution.

Their most contextualized news stories, in fact, talk about long-term environmental issues. Global warming and climate change mix with your weekly weather outlook. But that is “political,” right?

Well, let’s think about it a bit more.

Weather reporters and meteorologists can discuss climate change in their personal life. Rarely, these pieces of advocacy are cause for firing.

Telling you what the news is, contextualizing, and informing the public is part of news making. It’s in our DNA.

The news we craft, however we craft it, is part of a bigger story. It’s the story of what our audience does afterward.

If our audience listens to a heartbreaking story of death from a pandemic, they act. They may feel compelled to change their habits if they trust their news source. (Which is why it’s so critical that Tucker Carlson is transparent about the pandemic on air.)

Likewise, the visual of advocacy, acts of kindness, and volunteerism of a newsroom makes a statement. Advocating for Black lives, for women, or an other is not indicative of a bad journalist.

Because journalism is always advocating, it wants you to get smarter, be active in your community, and make a positive impact.

It’s that critical information gathering, production, and sharing.

First, news reporters put it all together in one package. No matter how reduced, they shape it, so their audience has an accurate, reliable account. That accuracy isn’t completely devoid of bias but seeks to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Second, the news is delivered. No matter the medium, that news is (hopefully) checked and published or broadcasted in an accessible way. The audience receives this news and begins to digest it.

Finally, the audience acts. Readers (including you reading this blog wherever you get to it) start putting pieces together. They commit some information to memory, discuss it as necessary, and act accordingly to what they know to be true.

As reporters of any stripe, we know this to be the case. Now, all we have to do is recognize that the qualifier of “advocacy” may be another way to keep news segregated. Instead, I hope we will see a progressive nature to the news. That journalism will embolden bright, diverse voices to move media forward past hateful constructions.


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