Reporting is Activism
Published November 3, 2014
by Shamina de Gonzaga
Questions like “where have you been?” in response to someone’s ignorance about a heavily reported story, or phrases such as, “being in the know,” suggest that certain stories matter. Or, perhaps, they suggest that certain stories matter more than others. What is reported becomes “what’s going on,” what is important now. Even if it’s true that there’s limited space and airtime to report on all that is happening at any one moment, it is hard to dismiss the role of the gate-keeping processes that determine what constitutes “news” and which perspectives will be heard or omitted on any given story.
I’ve sought to document, often in collaboration with colleagues, the perspectives of those who seem excluded from media platforms, and to discuss the issues that concern them. One such example are migrant viewpoints on migration policy. I’ve been mindful to identify, not as a journalist or reporter, but as an activist who interviews, edits and writes with a cause-oriented focus, and usually for non-governmental organizations with an agenda. In the US, the notion of “objectivity” is put forth as a standard of journalistic integrity. However, I’ve increasingly developed a curiosity regarding the distinctions.
One immediate difference may be that activist circles tend to concentrate people directly affected by a particular issue. In the media, that is far less significant; a journalist isn’t expected to be from a community in order to report on it. However, the ideal of objective reporting may lead one to overlook the influences that shape the final result of the stories that get aired and/or published. My receptiveness to media depends on the extent to which I accord credibility to its source(s), and on my perception of the guidelines that I imagine the media-maker must adhere to for publication. That doesn’t imply that I expect a media-maker to be “objective” or beyond bias.
The impetus to report stems from the judgment that something is worthy of being documented, shared, remembered. The act of documenting and reporting therefore inherently takes a stand, which reflects or may be impacted by factors such as the reporter’s values or concerns, references, personal connection to and understanding of the subject, or lack thereof, commercial considerations, political pressure, assumptions about what is relevant or appeals to the audience and to media consumers…. If activism is defined as a practice in support of, or in opposition to, an issue, and if what we choose to support or oppose is a result of what we believe to be true and the information we can access, then reporting is connected to activism, even when it does not explicitly deliver a political message. In this blog, I will explore the boundary of reporting and activism with insights from people whose work and identity traverse both worlds: from “narco-reporters” on the border between US and Mexico to “embedded” journalists in areas of conflict and beyond.