Journalism vs. advocacy


The question I get asked most often after an interview is:  “Can I see a copy of your article before you publish?” The answer is always: “No.” Sometimes it’s a “Ha ha, you’ve got to be kidding me, no,” and sometimes it’s an “I’m really really sorry but I’m not allowed to do that, no.”

It’s tough, especially when the story is about a neighborhood group, or about a community that is oppressed in some way.  Communities that “The Media” either ignores or time and time again distorts are fearful of reporters, because there is a feeling that once again their story will be told incorrectly, that the reporter won’t portray their struggle accurately. 

This problem is one of the reasons, I think, why citizen journalism was invented, and why TC Daily Planet partners with community and ethnic news sources – so that people from these communities can tell their own stories. In fact, there have been a number of stories that I initially pitched to TC Daily Planetthat we decided to let a community partner write instead.

But I still do write quite often about various controversies that happen within these communities, and in those cases I have to not only report accurately, but also make sure that I’m not ignoring voices that are traditionally ignored. This means getting sources to trust me, even when I say that they won’t be able to read the article beforehand. (Sometimes that means I don’t get the source to agree to go on the record – see last week’s column). 

I guess it’s the difference between being an advocate and a journalist.  I’m not going to lie. Usually, especially with controversial issues, I lean one way or the other about my opinion of the matter. That leaning often guides the questions I ask, the way I frame the story. But the most important task I have to do is to write the who/what/where/when/why and to do that in as truthful and accurate a way as possible.  That’s the accountability that I can offer.

Even though I’m an outsider, I’m still aware of the pressure to make sure that what I’m writing is not only truthful but includes the voices of communities that are not always heard from. I don’t always do this perfectly, but that’s the goal.