Activist Journalism is a “False Dichotomy”

In the 2013 New York Times piece, “Journalism, Even When It’s Tilted,” the late David Carr discusses the distinction between activism and journalism. He quotes Glenn Greenwald, who calls that separation a “false dichotomy,” but Carr doesn’t come to the same conclusion himself.

“But I do think that activism — which is admittedly accompanied by the kind of determination that can prompt discovery — can also impair vision. If an agenda is in play and momentum is at work, cracks may go unexplored,” he writes.

This counter-argument appears to make sense. People naturally affirm their beliefs, both consciously and unconsciously. In a media climate where we can compile our own media sources, self-professed conservatives watch FOX and liberals watch MSNBC. Would a journalist who also identifies as a feminist or environmentalist, then, only seek information from those sources? Would she succumb to logical fallacies because she only wishes to affirm her existing beliefs?

I don’t think so. Any activist knows that preaching to the choir is unproductive. Activist journalist (if that’s the right term) work often deconstructs the arguments of their ideological opposition rather than just repeatedly declaring their own views. For example, featured today on the Feministing website is one piece explaining the unfairness of an Indiana woman’s arrest as a result of her miscarriage and another article about why the mainstream media is minimizing the allegations against Bill Cosby. These pieces are clearly subjective editorials, railing against the mainstream media, but they’re also well-sourced and transparent.

A good journalist will take an extra effort to investigate the cracks in their story; an “activist” journalist will need to explore those cracks even more deeply. After all, they have so much more to prove.


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