The 21st century has already proved to be an evolving time period for journalism.
The 21st century has already proved to be an evolving time period for journalism. It has demonstrated innovation towards a digital-first environment with the rise of paywalls, social media and mobile editions, but has faced challenges and criticism time and again for steering away from the goal of the people who work in the industry every day—impartiality.
Its definition appears to be unclear in the age of activism-journalism, renewed in debate by The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald in the diplomatic row between Russia and the United States over the former National Security Agency contract worker Edward Snowden. Plus the rise, particularly in America, of activism on cable news, where Fox News personalities, sympathetic with the Republican Party, clash with fellow cable network MSNBC, sympathetic with the Democratic Party, seeing activism-journalism take centre stage.
Activism-journalism takes centre stage
This debate got the attention of Australian writer Antony Loewenstein, who wrote a piece in The Guardian’s Australian edition calling for journalists to declare who they vote for in the interests of being transparent and restoring the public’s trust.
Now it is rare in the pieces that I do for Kettle that I take positions on things. I personally am more interested in the thoughts of others compared to my own. Yet, I had a view, and the notion of journalists declaring who they vote for is rubbish.
Outsider View gains insight
I have a very unique position here at Kettle. While many of the pieces you see are from UK-based writers, I am not based in the UK. In fact, I live and work across the Atlantic in the United States. I’ve written about politics, journalism and life in the UK from a thousand miles away, and I’ve written about politics, journalism and life in the US for readers a thousand miles away. As a result, I’ve been able to see things from two sides, what my friends and colleagues in Britain see, and what my friends and colleagues in America see.
There are similarities and differences—the similarity being papers are open of their political positions, while the difference being UK broadcasters being required by Ofcom to be impartial, something, until 1987, that was mandated by the Federal Communications Commission in the US under the Fairness Doctrine. Two different media landscapes are at work.
There are also similarities and differences in the approach to covering politics—the similarity being there are dedicated press offices to assist with inquiries from the media, the difference being I’m more likely get a reply from an official in London rather than an official in Washington DC. Yet, in an age where spin is king, I never allowed my personal voting record to bias my writing.
Objective and subjective
Journalism is journalism, and politics is politics—one strives to be objective, while the other is subjective.
Caroline Mortimer, one of the editors of the Wannabe Hacks blog, wrote a feature recently on the journalism.co.uk web site on the NUJ. She wanted to know if it had some relevance left in young people. “Instead of engaging with the debate and selling the union to young people the article was condemned as ‘union bashing’ because it portrayed the NUJ in a less than glowing light,” Mortimer said. “The comments then descended into an argument about press regulation.”
Yet, Mortimer notes, she only wondered if anyone her age was a member. She did what any journalist would do—examine it, ask questions and report what was found, no matter if is praised or criticised.
After all, that is what we as journalists do every day—shine a light on the issues, with both sides telling their story for the reader, listener or viewer to decide, not us. Declaring the interest on who we vote for would be a stand against that principle, and the clear sign that journalism is dead.