The Social Agenda of Advocacy Journalism

Here’s a headline for you.

The social agenda of advocacy journalism manages your local tv or print newsroom. This revelation probably comes as no surprise to viewers, or readers as print and broadcast journalism meld into its current 21st century business model.

Trump voters recognized it, were villified for it, and continue to be talked down to by local newsrooms, more concerned about interviewing fringe social groups, than carrying out a mission to be truly objective and at the very least, fair.

I know a broadcast investigative reporter who lost his job. News management told him, his stories were too controversial and accused him of targeting certain social groups, or places of worship, or activist organizations linked to terrorism by reputable federal law enforcement sources. Here’s what they’re saying. “I’m sorry, we’ve decided to just look the other way, and oh by the way, you’re fired.”

Welcome to the social agenda of advocacy journalism. News managers think you’re not on board with a slanted subjective coverage agenda, if you don’t support openly advocating for one social cause or another, or you fight for a story, when instead, they tell you, “We don’t care if someone is about to be indicted on terror charges, we just can’t be potentially looked at as a newsroom promoting negative coverage on a social group, especialy if it involves minorities, illegal immigration or religion.”

Either your newsroom mission is brave enough to investigate and cover corruption, conspiracy and terrorism or it’s not really anything other than a politically correct, shallow cover for news content.

It shouldn’t matter, and doesn’t matter whether you’re covering a social group being linked to terrorism in your local community, or whether you're covering an embezzlement case that starts with your county treasurer. Have the backbone to cover it fairly and with vigor. Don’t bury it because, “…we don’t want to offend anyone.” The first amendment protects speech, and freedom of the press. It also protects speech that might offend someone, or a group of someones, or is targeted by a group of anarchists on college campuses who accuse your newsroom of promoting hate speech. That’s protected too. Don’t fold to their threats, and succumb to this idea, that newsrooms need to embrace political correctness. The only correctness that matters, is that your story is correct! Period. End of story.

Newsrooms and the anchors, reporters and producers working there, should not embrace a cause. For example, should news management change the station logo to the rainbow colors to recognize the Orlando nightclub shooting, or to promote the local gay pride parade? No, it shouldn’t. Let me be clear, each story, each group or person covered should receive the same level of fairness. It is not the mission of news, or newsrooms to endorse or promote a social cause, or political platform. Before you politically correct snowflakes melt into a puddle of tears, here’s another example for you. Should news management change the station logo to the flag of the Methodist Church if there was a mass shooting by a terrorist, or fascist anarchist? Did I just hear a collective “click” out there? It’s ok, and if your Executive Producer is looking over your shoulder, just keep working. You can let it sink-in later. I worked in broadcast news for 25 years, and really enjoyed my last stop, working with young reporters on writing, fairness, and not just accepting statements from social groups with a political agenda as fact. The local gay rights group, should receive the same level of fairness as the religious rights group. There is no room for political correctness or entering your interviews with a thought that this group or that group are zealots or crazy or racists.

What I see more and more, is advocacy journalism, flavored with a healthy dose of the Coverage of Condescension. You’ve heard it. Tag lines, about “Next, we’ll give you tips on how to keep your family safe.” Or, winter driving “tips” that include such condescending insults as “slow down,” and give yourself “extra time.” I have breaking news for these news directors and news managers. Your audience is shrinking, ask ESPN, and your audience isn’t stupid, ask ESPN. They know when you’re promoting a social cause, and hate being talked down to. Your audience knows best how to protect their children, and how to drive if it snows.

Troubling too is the fact, newsrooms across the country, big market to small market are filled with younger and younger inexperienced reporters who are taught in college to be “sensitive” and “politically correct” and to be on the lookout for anything that could be called racist or conservative. If you’re a reporter working in one of these newsrooms, be brave enough to ask tough questions of groups who think no one dares ask them a controversial question. If your news director threatens to fire you, stick to your guns. Oh, I’m sorry, guns are not part of the social agenda of advocacy journalism either, I meant stand your ground. Darn it, well you get the idea. Even if you lose your job, you have your integrity and objectivity in tact, ready for your next journalism job. There will be one, and if not, you’ll enjoy better hours, better pay and better benefits outside of television, and be all the wiser for it.