Many like myself would argue that a journalist can never quite be objective. Bias is already apparent during the reporting process. Who you choose to speak to, what you consider the strongest quotes, word choice etc. are all informed by a journalists’ judgement. Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel write in The Elements of Journalism:
“Being impartial or neutral is not a core principal of journalism. Because the journalist must make decisions, he or she is not and cannot be objective. But journalistic methods are objective.”
It’s important to keep in mind that the methodology is objective, not the journalist. The process is a means of testing the truthfulness of the information a reporter is putting out to the public. Social journalists (and I would even go so far as to say journalists in general) also act as advocates because they have the intention of serving the public interest. In the case of Duterte and his mass killings, a traditional sense of objectivity would show a report on both sides — for and against the killings. But when it’s clear that there’s injustice, its a journalists duty to report on behalf of the abused, not the abuser. These voices must be raised. Journalists in the Philippines do not have the luxury of being afraid of appearing bias when they are fighting for the rights people have lost time after time over the span of centuries.
Again, I’m not alone in thinking so — and this is the ideology that separates social journalism from traditionalists. Jeff Jarvis in Geeks Bearing Gifts would also argue that, “if it isn’t advocacy, it isn’t journalism.” He goes on to further explain:
“When an editor assigns reporters to expose a consumer scam or Wall Street fraud or misappropriation of government funds, that is advocacy. When a newspaper takes on the cause of the poor, the disadvantaged, the abused, the forgotten, or just the little guy against The Man, that is advocacy.”
As mentioned in my post, Duterte’s reign is not a far cry from the policies that Trump have imposed. If we look at advocacy journalism in the context of Jackson Heights and the undocumented who are losing their homes and opportunities for a path to citizenship and an overall better life — is it a journalists job to “neutralize” the situation by giving this community (and overall public) the for and against Trump’s travel ban? Or do we question and challenge government corruption? Of course, as independent press we maintain our credibility by ensuring our work is honest and truthful — that does not mean neutrality is a requirement for that.
The only thing separating journalists considering themselves advocates are journalists themselves. The thought that advocacy is an word icky in the biz is culturally ingrained in journalists from the start. If we choose to look beyond that concern, we can finally start creating tools beyond the echo chambers I mentioned above. We in the United States have the privilege of free press but I don’t want to wait until the country looks like the Philippines to start embracing the advocacy title.