courtesy Max Pixel

Advocacy journalism neglects objectivity

Reporters who couch their advocacy in their articles without acknowledging their bias make news less reliable and more subjective.

The term “advocacy journalism” should read like an oxymoron. Journalism, I am often told, should strive for objectivity; it should be the journalist’s ultimate goal to distance their own subjective opinion from their work until its facts are unimpeded by the writer’s own personal beliefs on the matter. Advocacy implies that a journalist is advocating for something, subscribing to a belief or ideal that is sure to have a serious effect on their journalistic integrity.

Advocacy journalism, according to a simple definition from Wikipedia, refers to “a genre of journalism that intentionally and transparently adopts a non-objective viewpoint, usually for some social or political purpose. Because it is intended to be factual, it is distinguished from propaganda. It is also distinct from instances of media bias and failures of objectivity in media outlets, since the bias is intended.”

Unfortunately, journalists who do not admit to advocacy often abandon objectivity in a nontransparent manner, and many times unintentionally. The lack of intent does not lessen the damage to journalistic integrity, however, it is hard to argue that the line between journalism and advocacy is quite often blurred to a serious extent.

Maybe one of the cases where this is the truest is in the coverage of stories featuring sexual assault victims. Consider that if the perpetrators of sexual assault could govern the discussion, rape might be labeled, “non-consensual sex,” because of the softening effect of that phrasing. Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein both have used such phrases. Additionally, recall each time an incident of sexual assault was labeled “boys just being boys” — this an especially common defense in cases of college students or athletes.

In the past, there have been cases where the rapists were indeed allowed to lead the discussion on sexual assault. Today, the pushback has been such that it is now the victim’s terminology that the journalist writes in, not the rapists themselves. Of course this is preferable to the alternative, but it is still a failure to achieve the objective viewpoint journalism is supposed to strive for. Today, progressive movements have moved vocal privileges to the victim, and the language of the discussion has changed. Sexual victims are now sexual ”survivors,” placing a good bit of emphasis on their suffering. It is not too large a leap to refer to these victims as “survivors”, but it is still a leap nevertheless. The word choice of “survivor” invokes the reader’s sympathy, and causes them to choose a side, though it is not always necessarily applicable to the sexual assault victim.

There is always an effect when reporters write subjectively and rarely is it wholly positive. The effect in this case is a wave of sexual assault journalism that reads more like advocacy journalism than objective reporting is helping to perpetuate an atmosphere of absolute persecution of those accused of sexual assault. Note that I’ve said accused, not guilty. There are going to be innocent parties accused of rape; it has happened and it’s going to keep happening, if only on occasion. It is the job of journalists not to rush to condemn the accused, but to report objectively what is known. Journalists who find themselves entrenched in a camp of advocacy will be unable to write in such a manner.

Advocacy journalism has an important place in the modern media, but journalists who claim to be objective should be sure not to walk that thin line between advocacy and pure factual reporting. It is difficult, and requires a bit of skepticism on the part of the reader. The next time you pick up an article, no matter how objective it might seem, consider how the wording shapes your opinion on the reported matter.

Post Author: Trenton Gibbons