Is Journalism a Form of Activism?

Danielle Tcholakian:

But I was surprised to see how many journalists came to the students’ defense, agreeing that journalism is a form of activism. They were highly respected, solid, investigative journalists. Los Angeles Times writer Matt Pearce asked, “Does anybody think that even the fairest and most diligent of investigative reporters wrote their horrifying stories hoping that nothing would change?” The Washington Post‘s Wesley Lowery asserted, “Even beyond big, long investigations, journalists perform acts of activism every day. Any good journalist is an activist for truth, in favor of transparency, on the behalf of accountability. It is our literal job is to pressure powerful people and institutions via our questions.” Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for The New York Times Magazine and arguably one of the greatest living reporters today, quoted Lowery’s tweet, agreeing with it.

Lowery’s tweet resonated with me, too. Truth, transparency, accountability — these are all words I’m comfortable with. The pursuit of truth can certainly feel like an activist endeavor under a presidential administration that lies habitually.

Still, I was cringing at the word “activism.” I have for a long time, too. Years ago, talking with a mentor in this industry, I made a face as I uttered the phrase “activist journalism.” I said I’d never want to do that; I was a news reporter.

But my mentor just smiled and when I asked why, he said, “You are an activist journalist.” Well, I never. I insisted I wasn’t, that was nonsense. I was a news reporter. I reported the news. I didn’t insert opinions into things or tell people what to think or argue for a certain side. I gave all the facts and let the chips fall where they may!