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Advocacy and journalism:
coexistence or natural conflict?

by John Bowen, MJE
Initially came the mass shooting of 17 students and school staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Florida.

Students and scholastic media reported the issues surrounding the shootings and the followed student protests, trying to make sense of it all.

Then came discussion among journalism educators about student advocacy and journalism. Should the two travel together? Can they coexist in the same newsroom?

Now is the time to assess those questions, and more.

In a chapter titled “What we need from the ‘Next Journalism'” in their book, Blur, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel  look how questions like these might identify purpose, roles and focus of media in the future.

“Strip away platform. Strip away technique. Strip away culture,” they write. “What function does a newsroom serve in its community? What is its essential purpose, apart from generating revenue?”

Student journalists raised the essence of that question when they reported social issues and events surrounding the shootings at their school. Thousands of other teens, some student journalists, joined in, bringing praise as well as anger, ultimately participation innational marches and protests.

Journalism educators  prepared their students not only to report the events and the issues, fulfilling their social role  responsibility. They also embraced the leadership aspects of journalism by guiding students as they made coverage and action decisions.

Mix the leadership and growth of student voice with the concept of journalism as advocacy and we create debate on the essential purpose and role of scholastic journalism.

After all, muckrakers like Nellie Bly, Lincoln Steffens and Ida M. Tarbell rerouted the scope of journalism.

Perhaps this present confluence of two major points – change in journalism and a regrowth of advocacy – can fuel the expansion of New Voices and propel scholastic journalism into examining issues and potential solutions.

“Telling stories is not the answer. Neither is delivering the news, or even monitoring government. All those have been a part of it historically,” Kovach and Rosenstiel state in Blur. “But we think the essential function is something broader and more conceptual, and the future of journalism depends in part on embracing the broader notion.”

The authors specifically mention verification, synthesis and making sense of information presented as parts of that larger notion of essential journalism.

It is time to expand the discussion to include the broader notion of scholastic journalism’s future roles and whether advocacy is among them..

In the next month or so we will develop and discuss what these potential changes might mean to scholastic journalism, provide background and perspective and share activities and lessons, grow discussion and spread possibilities.

 

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