There is no such thing as objective journalism.
Getting Startedby Chip Berlet - Z Media Institute
Progressives have a long and proud tradition of muckraking, and there are plenty of role models such as Nellie Bly, Ida M. Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, George Seldes, I.F. Stone, Rachel Carson, and Seymour Hersh. If you haven't heard of one or more of these journalists, get acquainted with their lives and work by doing your own research.
In progressive circles look for the contemporary work of Alan Nairn, Deborah Nelson, Laura Washington, Sara Diamond, Russ Bellant, Frederick Clarkson, Esther Kaplan, Bill Berkowitz, Christian Parenti, Trudy Lieberman, Max Blumenthal, Roberto Lovato, and Michelle Goldberg.
Investigative reporters working as part of the movement for social and economic justice can play an important role in providing the information needed for activists to make effective tactical and strategic decisions. Given the trends we are facing, all of us who want to defend democracy have to fight on four fronts. We must organize against:
As we promote progressive solutions, we must also join with all persons across the political spectrum to defend the basic ideas of mass democracy, even as we argue that it is an idea that has never been real for many here in our country. The principles of the Enlightenment are not our goal, but resisting attempts to push political discourse back to pre–enlightenment principles is nonetheless a worthy effort.
Traditionally, working journalists have been given special access to govenment meetings, courtrooms, and scenes of police or emergency activity such as public eents, crime sites, fires, etc.
Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution or Bill of Rights are journalists given any special rights to collect the news. There are special "Shield Laws" that give reporters extra procedural protections allowing them in some cases to protect the identity of their sources.
With the rise of the "Underground Press" and "Alternative Press" in the United States in the 1960s, the privileges and perogatives traditianlly granted journalists in the commercial press were demanded by alternative journalists. The police, who usually granted special "Press Cards," were not amused. Over time--and a few lawsuits--Press Cards were issued to many working reporters in the alternative media, including radio, and (with the development of the 30-pound recording backpack "porta-pak" video units with their 10-pound cameras) television reporters and videographers.
Internet journalism created the conditions for the development of a significant number of Citizen Journalists. Citizens performing journalism is nothing new, however. It was citizens of colonial Boston who reported what happened at the Boston Massacre commemorated by the famous engraving by Paul Revere. During the 1979 Stonewall uprising of gay people angry at being harassed by police, citizen journalists phoned in live reports (called "actualities") to Pacifica radio station WBAI in New York. The person who videoed the police beating of Rodney King was a citizen journalist.
Here's the scenario. Sally Sleuth, a Citizen Journalist, gains special access to a public meeting where Joe Slick, a Tea Party leader is holding a press conference. After moving close to the podium, Sally pulls out a bag of coffee beans and begins pelting Joe Slick with them while denouncing the Tea Parties as unwitting tools of the corporate elites. Sally is dragged out of the event by security, then records herself for a You Tube video in which she claims a victory for the progressive movement. So...why not?
Based on traditional journalistic ethics, you cannot abuse special access and privileges by being a participant in the events you cover. This remains true even if you dismiss the concept of "objective" journalism.
If you are a participant observer in an event and agree with the general principles of unity of the event, then there is no ethical dilemma. The ethical breach occurs when you gain access under false pretenses and then pop up as an adversarial participant.
It screws it up for the rest of us!
You get to be the hero for one day on the internet, while for many months scores of other citizen journalists are banned from the access they need to report the story. Congratulations...how can we tell the difference between you and a paid agent provacateur. We can't. Don't do it. Don't wear two hats.
We will ban you from further reporting and denounce you in public!
No, seriously, we will. If you cannot abide by this "No Two Hats" rule, click here.
Many of the journalism training pages here are adapted from a course, "Strategic Research, Analysis and Reporting," developed by Chip Berlet, Holly Sklar, and Abby Scher for the Z Media Institute hosted by Z Magazine in Woods Hole Massachusetts.
They will happily bore you with more detailed biographical information.
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Democracy is a process
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