advocacy journalism

Good advocacy journalism -- The French daily Liberation on the right to die

Good advocacy journalism -- The French daily Liberation on the right to die

What the weak head with strongest bias rules, Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools. Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, (1711) line 203.

Regular readers of these columns will discern my disdain for advocacy journalism. It is part of my personal catalogue of the seven deadly sins. Let us tick them off according to Pope Gregory I’s list: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, wnvy and pride. Advocacy journalism is the reporter’s particular sin of pride. It takes humility to handle opposing voices with accuracy and respect.

But I do not want to dismiss this style out of hand for there are many examples of excellent opinion-centered news articles. A recent story on euthanasia from the French daily Libération is an example of how to do advocacy journalism well.

But first let us define our terms. In a recent GetReligion article, editor tmatt described the clash of ideologies between the classical school of Anglo-American reporting, and the older but now revived school of advocacy reporting.

When I say "old-school journalism," I am referring to what textbooks often call the "American model of the press," which stresses that journalists should strive to honor standards of accuracy, fairness and balance when covering the news. The key: When reporting on hot-button issues, journalists should strive to treat people on all sides of these debates with respect.
This classically liberal approach to news emerged, and evolved, in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. The goal was to produce news that was as independent as possible, thus exposing readers to genuine diversity. Citizens could then make up their own minds.

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Is European-style, opinion-marbled journalism playing a bigger role in American news?

Is European-style, opinion-marbled journalism playing a bigger role in American news?

I'm often frustrated by one of American journalism's most cherished, but abused, conceits. 

I'm referring, broadly, to "he-said she-said" journalism (HSSS, from here on), the standard news format of contrasting statements meant to convey a sense of fair-mindedness no matter how much stronger, by which I mean believable, one statement is compared to another. It's just so easy to cheat and hide bias and a lack of fairness, even while appearing to do the opposite.

I'm sure you've read an HSSS story with some quote that had you mumbling to yourself, "That's utter crap." Or perhaps you've worded it more strongly? I sure have.

We're taught HSSS in college Journalism 101. It's the mark of "objectivity" (yes, those are scare quotes meant to convey skepticism), the promised redemption of American journalism that never really was and never will be.

Of course, we are talking about a mythical objectivity that represents a kind of blank-slate mental state, as opposed to "objectivity" defined (classic work here, "The Elements of Journalism") in terms of professional standards of accuracy, fairness and respect for the many voices involved in public debates. Those kinds of professional standards are exactly what GetReligion keeps trying to defend.

I struggle with poorly executed HSSS journalism just as "omniscient anonymous voice" journalism bugs GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly. Click here if you need a refresher on his views. He is primarily opposed to hard news newspaper and wire-service journalists -- as opposed to the authors of magazine essays and opinion pieces -- using massive amounts of information and opinion without giving readers any clear indication of where all that material is coming from.

i do not disagree with Terry on that. The raw material leading to journalistic conclusions should be spelled out. Think of it as connecting the dots. Think of it as simple honesty.

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What is this? Long on excitement, short on attribution, USA Today declares gay marriage 'inevitable'

What is this? Long on excitement, short on attribution, USA Today declares gay marriage 'inevitable'

As faithful readers know, GetReligion advocates the traditional American model of the press.

That model relies on journalists presenting facts — attributed to named sources — in a fair, unbiased manner. That's opposed, of course, to the one-sided, advocacy, European-styled approach to reporting the news.

Which leads us a 1,700-word item today from USA Today with this provocative headline:

Gay marriage, once inconceivable, now appears inevitable

Care to guess which journalistic approach this "news" story by the national newspaper's Supreme Court correspondent takes?

To help answer that question, count (1) the number of named sources in the story's breathless first five paragraphs and (2) the number of unattributed opinions better suited for an editorial than a straight news report.

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Surprise! Dallas Morning News finds a Methodist to quote

Once or twice (or maybe three or four or five times) in recent weeks, we have criticized The Dallas Morning News’ inability to find anyone to quote who supports the United Methodist Church’s stance on homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Methodist bishop for the region, Michael “Never Can Be Reached for Comment” McKee, hasn’t helped matters any, from a journalistic perspective. Whether there’s a history between the bishop and the Morning News or he just doesn’t want to be quoted on this matter, I have no idea. Perhaps he silenced his phone during church and forgot to ever turn it back on?

But rather than settle for a “no comment,” GetReligion has made the case that the Morning News needs to find a voice on the “other side” in its coverage of a retired Methodist minister who presided over the wedding of two gay men earlier this month. That is, unless the Dallas newspaper wants to practice advocacy journalism.

So we’re left — still — with explaining to a Pulitzer-winning newspaper how it might practice balanced journalism and treat all sides of a divisive issue such as this fairly.

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Dallas Morning News advocacy journalism, the prequel

Pardon me, Dallas Morning News. We underestimated you. I’ll explain what I mean in a moment. But first, a little background — OK, it may turn out to be a big chunk of background:

Twice in the last week — here and here — we at GetReligion posted on the Texas newspaper’s advocacy journalism on a retired Methodist pastor conducting a wedding ceremony for two elderly gay men. In each case, we lamented the Morning News’ inability to find anyone to quote supporting the United Methodists’ stance on homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Instead, a newspaper that likes to tout its nine Pulitzer Prizes since 1986 settled each time for a “no comment” from the region’s presiding Methodist bishop.

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Dallas paper advocates for Methodist same-sex marriage

I thought Tamie “wife of this blogger” Ross had a catchy title on her post last week concerning The Dallas Morning News’ inability to find anyone to quote supporting the United Methodists’ stance on homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.” That title: “If at first you don’t succeed … find another source.”

Instead, the Dallas paper settled for attempting to reach a single source:

The UMC bishop for this region, Bishop Michael McKee, didn’t return messages seeking comment.

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Pod people: Have many Americans tuned out the press?

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage, I wrote two relatively quiet pieces that attempted to focus on specific journalistic issues linked to this significant victory for the cultural, moral and religious left.

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