Last year, student journalist Rebecca Schneid from Stoneman Douglas High School — the site of a deadly 2018 school shooting — gained lots of media attention after claiming that journalism was a form of activism. Though met with criticism from some journalists, several others also came to her defense. The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery went so far as to say that “any good journalist is an activist for truth.” That’s a sentiment which I wholeheartedly endorse.
During my time as a student journalist, I’ve continuously reported on stories that I am passionate about. I know that this is a task that can be difficult in other fields of work — most 9-to-5 jobs detail exactly what needs to get done and when. But journalism fares a little differently, in that a lot of us receive the opportunity to present our own ideas regarding issues that we don’t think are adequately covered.
It’s a privilege to be able to study this profession at all, and I came to NYU with the hope of being able to bring light to issues that are ignored more often than not. While here, I’ve embraced the immigration beat. And as a child of immigrants, the stories that I’ve brought to life surrounding this topic hit very close to home. I aspire to tell these stories in order to keep people aware of the very real problems currently encompassing the United States’ immigration system.
And I have seen how journalism as a whole does exactly that: it changes the ways in which we discuss issues that often go unnoticed and are in need of recognition.
For this — and many other — reasons, it’s difficult for me to see how or why many journalists believe that advocacy and journalism do not go hand in hand. The idea that it’s taboo for a journalist to claim to also be an activist is misleading when the very work that journalists do is a form of advocacy in and of itself.
To understand why journalism and activism are often considered two separate issues rather than one and the same, it’s important to take a look into the structure of journalism. Journalists are meant to report and uncover the truth of issues that pertain to society. For this reason, reporting with a bias is unethical, as it leads to unreliable sources and distorted truths.
While studying journalism at NYU, I’ve been taught the very real dangers of biases and how it can skew the ways in which we learn about the world going on around us. I’ve also seen the effect of distorted truths and bias in real life — President Donald Trump has made more than 9,000 false claims since taking office. He’s also consistently attempted to silence any media sources that call him out for these lies.
For this reason, portraying journalism as activism is considered a form of bias, since activists and advocacy groups make it blatantly clear which side of an argument they support.
But a bias of this nature does not necessarily have to be considered faulty or unreliable. Like journalism, activism has led to many changes in society that have arguably been for the better. It’s because of both journalists and activists that the horrors of the meatpacking industry came to light. Both journalists and activists helped publicize very real forms of discrimination during the Civil Rights era. Today, journalists and activists are the groups calling the Trump administration out for blatant acts of injustice and racism.
While it’s important to recognize that yes, journalists should not only portray any one side of an argument or topic, the work we do as a whole goes hand in hand with the work of advocacy. I have yet to meet one journalist that is not passionate about the issues and the people they report on. I did not become a journalist in order to validate a system based in oppression — I became a journalist to uncover harsh truths, which more often than not also uncover people or groups that should in fact not be given a position of power, something which activists also aspire to accomplish.
As journalists, we have the power to formulate discussion on aspects of the society we live in. Our role is a vital one and should not in any way be taken for granted. But as those in power continue to discredit our work, we must come to recognize ourselves as advocates for the right to the truth now more than ever.
This article is part of a special series from WSN called “The Future of Journalism,” in which the Opinions Desk plans to explore the future of the journalism industry in the current political and social climate, as well as try to gain a better understanding of how we can prepare our future journalists for the field.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
Email Melanie Pineda at [email protected]