College Life

Opinion: Journalism Is Not Activism

In an age where “alternative facts” and “fake news” have become frequent reoccurring buzz words across all forms of media, it has sparked discussion about the integrity and credibility of journalism both at home and abroad.

One of the questions that has been included within this discourse is whether or not journalism is a form of activism, even if a reporter presents the facts on issues relating to social justice.

As a journalism student myself, this has been something I have had to think, consider and research multiple times over. Social justice issues are an ever-present, on-going matter, and they are not going away any time soon. I think that there is some element of confusion that gives the misconception or illusion that journalists go out of their way to become activists.

Good, credible and transparent journalism is the pursuit of the truth after gathering, vetting and analysing all relevant information from all sides and parties concerned. It is the responsibility of the journalist to report on stories that are of public interest.

We (journalists) should be on the look-out for stories that are of relevance to our readers. For us to be able to do this well, we need to try and get a grasp of an understanding of who our readers are. For instance, a local story may not make the national broadsheets, but it could be on the front page of the Connaught Telegraph, as it may be a story that will directly affect readers from that region.

If a reporter covers a news story and presents the facts in an ethical manner, it is essentially up to the reader to decide how they will react to that article. If any changes in public policy come about following publication, that is a result of a collective reaction amongst readers and interest groups. Those changes cannot be directly attributed to that journalist.

I do believe that there is confusion when blogs, websites and alternative news outlets with an obvious agenda are thrown into the mix, and they can often be mistaken for journalism. More often than not, they do not subscribe to journalistic principles because that is not in their interest as they want to propel and push their own programme. This is not journalism, and good, ethical practice should not be brought down as a result. When readers read an article or view content from various platforms, they should pay close attention to the source of what they are watching and viewing.

Gabija Gataveckaite, Deputy Editor for the The College View shared her thoughts with me on the subject.

“I think there needs to be a clear distinction between journalism and activism, because activism is not objective and normally doesn’t carry vital journalism traits, such as accuracy and truth-in-labelling. Recent calls for gun reform in US have seen student journalists call journalism activism, but it isn’t,” she said.

I ran a poll on Twitter, asking people if they believed journalism is a form of activism, even if they present the facts on a social justice issue. Interestingly, 72% of people were of the opinion that as long as all of the facts are clearly indicated, journalism is not activism.

If journalists were to cease reporting on social justice issues, we would not have found out about stories such as Cambridge Analytica, the tracker mortgage scandal, the treatment of residents in Aras Attracta in 2014 and clerical abuse in Ireland down through the decades. One thing that all of these separate incidents have in common is that they affect real people in a very real way, therefore they of public interest; hence why we should report on them.

With any profession or industry, there will be lines that a minority of individuals will dare to cross. Gerard Grimes, a journalism student in Dublin City University said, “once the line is crossed; calling for action, trying to influence the debate by pushing one side and not following journalistic practices- that is on the side of activism.”

If we were to limit, or essentially censor the nature of content that is published and broadcast, we would be going backwards in time, and it would ultimately lead to a misinformed society. It would have a vast array of implications for decisions that would be made in our day-to-day lives as ordinary people.

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