Journalists routinely strive to cover activists and controversial issues in an unbiased manner. But to the public it may appear that mainstream media is biased, in part because it is asking tougher questions. In addition, the public may be confused about the difference between opinion writing and advocacy journalism.
Advocacy journalism drops the pretense of objectivity in favor of factually expressing a viewpoint. Opinion writing is meant to be opinionated, but for mainstream media that opinion is based on factual reporting.
“We’re seeing a lot of high level, persuasive and advocacy journalism; journalism that makes an argument. . . I think we’re going to continue to see more of that and I think that’s a good thing,” said Wesley Lowery, a national reporter for the Washington Post.
Lowery, an African American who gained notoriety for covering the Black Lives Matter movement, explained that it is not difficult to suppress his personal opinions. He knows it is his role as a reporter to be objective.
“Our job is to tell the truth and always hold people accountable, though that’s not always going to be popular,” Lowery said.
He believes that reporters need to ask tough, sometimes controversial questions which will provide broadened perspectives for the public. Sometimes those tough questions can appear to be biased, but the goal is to get honest answers.
Editorial writers, like the Boston Globe’s Marcela García, have more flexibility about being subjective. Traditionally, the Opinion and Op-ed pages are designed specifically for this kind of expression.
There’s a distinction between editorials and news that the public may not always recognize. TV personalities like Rachel Maddow straddle the line between journalism and opinion, further muddying the waters.
That’s not to say that editorialists solely rely on their own opinions. They still have to reach out and talk to sources on all sides of an issue before giving their subjective, but informed, opinion on it, García said.
“There’s this idea of balance, so you don’t want to always be listening to the same type of people. I think that’s one big difference between activists and journalists,” García said.
García sees part of her role as giving a voice to the people of the Boston.
She has written on the controversial issue of gun violence in reaction to the Parkland shooting back in February. The editorial provides contact information of senators at Washington D.C., as it encourages readers to reach out to them to change legislation.
Then in April, García and the board produced a “fake” front page describing President Donald Trump’s first year in office. Here, they told Republicans that they need to stand up against President Trump’s plans.
“It becomes harder when things are not so black and white, that’s when the lines get harder to draw, but I see everything as activism. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, that’s just how I feel it is,” said García.