What Is Advocacy Journalism?

Advocacy journalism is where the news and facts of a story are presented within an agenda. It is a big part of American media, but who’s to say whether that’s good or bad?

Advocacy journalism is a type of media that doesn’t just report the facts but also expresses a viewpoint while presenting them.

When discussing the merits of certain media outlets, some of us center our view around whether or not the reporting could be considered ‘objective journalism.’

However, that isn’t a factor for all consumers of media. People often choose their news media based on the point of view that the organization represents.

In American journalism, Fox News’ has often been a key source of news for conservatives, while CNN, NPR, and The New York Times are the choice of a more liberal audience.

Those are just a few examples, with audiences consistently relying on reporting that presents the fact, but those so from a certain viewpoint. If you want to become a freelance reporter, it’s helpful to understand how this type of journalism operates.

American Media & Advocacy Journalism

What Is Advocacy Journalism

There has often been a media bias toward certain political parties within American journalism; there has often been a media bias against certain political parties. In this instance, a clear example of Advocacy journalism would be Fox News’ newsroom’s consistently negative reporting on the Democratic Party.

The differences in reporting around former US Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s time in The White House illustrate this perfectly.

Objective reporting is often absent in these stories, with their professional journalists consistently focusing on news sources that align with their political viewpoint.

The appetite for this reporting is interesting to witness. In recent years, some viewers have even decided that Fox News isn’t conservative enough, so they have turned their dials to alternative media.

Of course, like with Gonzo journalism, it’s not just conservatives who engage in advocacy journalism in the mainstream media. For example, the liberal magazine The Nation and talk radio’s the Ed Schultz Show also work.

Muckraking and Advocacy

There is a long history of news reports in the United States falling into advocacy journalism. An early example would be the muckraking magazines in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This was where a group of advocacy journalists exposed corruption in established institutions through investigative reporting, publishing the facts in an often sensationalist manner to push their agendas further.

In modern times, ‘muckrakers’ has even become a slang term for investigative journalists throughout America.

Are All Journalists Advocacy Journalists?

What is advocacy journalism?
Because journalists, editors, and organizations decide what to cover, most journalism comes from the point of advocacy

When CNN put forward a question about this genre of journalism, there was a wide and varied response.

One of the more interesting replies came from Los Angeles Times national correspondent Matt Pearce.

He put forward the argument that because journalists, editors, and organizations decide what to cover, most journalism comes from the point of advocacy. He wrote:

“Journalism is activism in its most basic form. The entire basis for its ethical practice is that a democracy requires an informed citizenry to function. Choosing what you want people to know is a form of activism, even if it’s not the march-and-protest kind.”

He added:

“Does anybody think that even the fairest and most diligent investigative reporters wrote their horrifying stories hoping that nothing would change?”

This viewpoint was echoed by Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post, who said: “Even beyond big, long investigations, journalists perform acts of activism every day. Any good journalist is an activist for truth, in favor of transparency, on behalf of accountability. Our literal job is to pressure powerful people and institutions via our questions.”

Advocates for advocacy journalism may also point toward whistleblowers who seek out advocacy journalists as one of the key uses of advocacy journalism. In this case, public interest stories that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day can get brought into the public domain.

However, this isn’t an opinion that is shared universally.

Critics of Advocacy Journalism

Many believe that journalists and news outlets should share an objective viewpoint and report just public interest stories.

The National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar’s response to the above illustrates that. He wrote: “Journalism isn’t activism; it’s presenting the facts, honestly and objectively. It’s this mentality that’s killing trust in our profession.”

Critics would also argue that having a plan seeped within news coverage raises questions of journalism ethics and conflicts of interest. Many of those who take up a career within media will touch on this during their journalism studies.

On paper, they may have come across Wilhelm Kempf’s ‘Peace journalism: A tightrope walk between advocacy journalism and constructive conflict coverage.’ Here, the writer states that “impartiality and objectivity are indispensable tools of good journalism.”

However, the 1978 UNESCO Media Declaration is also cited in this paper. It touches on the segment, which states: “The mass media have an important contribution to strengthening peace and international understanding and in countering racialism, apartheid and incitement to war.”

Advocacy Journalism Going Forward

Those who don’t support advocacy journalism may also have their viewpoints on whistleblowers, pointing toward the mass communication of sensitive material by journalists who may have a particular plan.

They may also point towards Wikipedia, citizen journalism, fake news, and misinformation, making objective news more important.

However, whether corporate sponsors and advertising make true objectiveness impossible for media organizations is questionable corporate sponsors and advertising makes true objectiveness impossible for media organizations.

For instance, reporting the facts and importance of issues around climate change may not be in-fitting if one of your key sponsors is not an environmentally friendly company. In this instance, journalistic standards are being ignored, and the media organization behaves more like a public relations company.

When reported on, social issues become advocacy journalism simply by receiving mass communication from the public. As demonstrated earlier in the article, the media bias is clearly demonstrated for a political purpose.

Advocacy journalism may have its place, but where that place should be is a nuanced issue with many different viewpoints. Your view on it probably depends on where you get your news from.

Examples of advocacy journalism:

Climate change: 2020 Is Our Last, Best Chance to Save the Planet by Justin Worland for Time Magazine is an excellent example of advocacy journalism.

Social issues: DaLyah Jones is working on producing stories that influence black communities as part of her work.

Political Journalism: In an interesting op-ed, Kareem Abdul-Jabba took a look at the state of discourse regarding advocacy journalism in politics in the US.

Resources For Journalists

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What Is Data Journalism?

What is Literary Journalism?

11 Best Journalism Tools For Busy Professionals

What Is Muckraking Journalism?

What Is Watchdog Journalism? A Helpful Guide

What Is New Journalism?

What Is Science Journalism? A Detailed Guide

10 Best Tools for Data Journalism For Research and Data Management

Best 7 Journalism Skills To Make You a Successful Journalist

What Is Yellow Journalism?

5 W’s of Journalism: Everything You Need To Know

What Is Editing In Journalism? A Comprehensive Guide For Budding Journalists

What Is Gonzo Journalism? Explained

FAQ

What is advocacy media?

Advocacy media is journalism that presents facts as part of an opinion, motivation, or agenda instead of presenting the news.

What are the four principles of journalism?

There are four ethical standards which are outlined in the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) code:

1. Seek Truth and Report It
2. Minimize Harm
3. Act Independently
4. Be Accountable and Transparent

What is a public interest story?

A public interest story is an important story in the public’s interest to know, for example, corruption, a coverup, or harmful actions by a corporate, a public leader, or an institution.

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