The Role of Journalism in the Science of Injustice

A responsibility often overlooked.

This week, my community engagement class at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism welcomed Demis Glasford, a social psychologist and associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who studies how factors like framing, presentation and narrative impact audience responses.

“A big piece of how people get information about injustice is through journalism,” Glasford said. “So it’s really important how journalists present injustice.”

Glasford is right. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough study on how differently people respond to journalism, which is a problem. If we don’t know how people will respond to our work, how do we know the role our words play once they’re printed or published? In a day and age where social injustice is largely prevalent, journalists’ responsibility to be aware of the impact of their work on public perceptions of injustice bears all the more weight.

Too often, journalists and news organizations measure the success of their work by how many clicks, shares and likes it got. But when the work concerns social justice, when it could have an important impact on how people see a particular issue and who they vote for during an election, for example, likes and views are besides the point. How can we engage with readers and audience members to see how a particular piece made them feel about an important social issue? How can we gather that knowledge and then use it to inform our journalistic decisions?

In her piece “The news is served: How newsrooms can connect with communities,” Kelsey Proud says,

“We can serve our neighbors and our world by involving them in the process from start to finish. We have to know who they are, what they value, and how they consume information.”

Knowledge on how audiences consume information is what’s lacking right now. So far, journalists have, by and large, been ignoring what audience reactions will be. Newsrooms have become so focused on staying afloat by publishing what people will like that they’ve forgotten to look at how that work will affect people and communities. We’ve stopped trying to understand the social and political impact of our work. We’ve forgotten about the readers, and that’s sad because ultimately they should be the priority.

“It’s the difference between writing in a personal journal and journalism,” says Proud. “Journaling is for the writer. Journalism is for the community. It’s not about us.”

Dear journalists,