Journalism has no room for activism

Kaitlyn Hughes | Staff Writer

*Note: The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) will publish a monthly column in the Duke’s opinions section.

In the wake of traumatizing events it is natural to demand a response and a call to action. Throughout times of tragedy, people look for answers, guidance and solutions.

Media is the logical source for immediate access to information. However comforting it is to have up-to-the-moment coverage, it could lead to a false sense of security.

With how accessible information is in our current society, this can lead to either incomplete or outright false conclusions. According to the Pew Research Center, over half of Americans are getting their news from social media, making the line between what is actual reporting and what is sensationalized-editorialism hard for readers to differentiate.

Information is produced at such a rapid pace, more and more Americans seem to be using social media as the source for their answers and knowledge. People have begun to disregard their own intelligent research and have been forming opinions solely based on what they learn scrolling.

Whether it’s credible or not.

When journalists’ work does not meet the standards of the falsified information on social media, they often receive backlash. Lack of research produces false claims against journalists that can cause danger in the form of death or prison time.

To protect journalists, one must educate themselves on the difference between journalists and activists and understand the relevance of media literacy.

Journalists are truth tellers. They seek to inform the world about corrupt information without intervening. It is up to an audience to take information and apply it.

Journalist have an obligation to the public, activist fill an obligation to a cause.

People all around the world become angry with journalists for not advocating for a response that insinuates change. This puts journalists in an uncomfortable position, leaving them to question the duty of their profession.

When journalists act as activists it often leads to punishment.

According to Time Magazine, Vietnamese journalist Tran Thi Nga was sentenced to jail for nine years after authorities accused her of spreading propaganda. Her goal was never to go against the state but only advocate for human rights by exposing environmental spills and government corruption. By stepping outside the bounds of objective journalism her work was misinterpreted and she created a dangerous scenario.

The line between journalist and activist becomes blurred in a society consumed by the media. Journalists are not meant to take matters in their own hands. Their job, particularly in our democratic country, is to be the mouthpiece to the people.

According to the peer-reviewed journal Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, journalism is to be seen as the driving force within a democracy, and it allows for citizens to form rational, reasonable and educated responses. Citizens are failing the concept of journalism when they demand their world views to be represented in news.

Unbiased writing is important to establish trust with an audience. Former editor for Washington Post Martin Baron, defined unbiased writing as “work done carefully with an open-mind.” Unbiased writing contains the belief that there is more to learn. Baron claims that journalists who practice unbiased writing do not assume they know all the answers, they always aim to seek more knowledge.

When opinions of how the world should respond to ethical issues is assumed in writing, the writing begins to lack credibility. Transparent information is vital to create a society that trusts the media.

The over arching goal in journalism is to build off of facts. Ideal journalism follows the SPJ code of ethics which highlights seeking the truth, minimizing harm, acting independently and being transparent. When journalists follow these standards they present work that is trustworthy and accurate.

By using the SPJ code of ethics, journalism creates factual stories to lead citizens in the direction of pursuing change.

Objective journalism educates an audience allowing them to pursue social justice. When ethical work of a journalist and the use of media literacy by an audience is combined, solutions are created. Both roles are important to global justice.

Where a journalist’s job ends, the job of an activist begins.

People who protest and campaign to fight for political and social change are known as activists. Activists are formed from an audience that is displeased with the tragedies that are presented to them through unbiased journalism.

An audience plays an important role in ethical journalism through the process of media literacy. American writer and professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University Lance A. Strate argues in the ETC: A Review of General Semantics journal article that media literacy is an ethical obligation.

Media literacy can be described through the steps of evaluating, researching, engaging, initiating and establishing. Through these steps, one is able to critically analyze a writer’s work and determine their own moral standpoint on the subject at hand. Once a piece of media has been explored through the lens of media literacy, protesting and campaigning can begin.

The only way we will create social change is if we go beyond what the news and social media bring to our immediate attention. It is our duty as citizens within a democracy to encourage others to move in the right direction and fight for change.

Instead of attacking journalists for upholding their role to provide unbiased work, take further action by: Boycotting businesses that are supporting opposing views, call state representatives, donate, peacefully protest and further educate others on the issue at hand.

Revolution you want to see in the world should not be sought in the media. Media is only the start of rightful action. Change needs to begin with you.