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Media Conference: Rise of the Advocate Journalists

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: media, media reform, National Conference for Media Reform, advocacy, journalism,

Writers and bloggers are blurring the already thin line between advocacy and journalism. In a workshop at the National Conference for Media Reform today called “How Independent Media Creates Change,” Jane Hamsher, the founder of the popular blog Firedoglake, spoke about her work as “somewhere between activism and journalism.” She set out to “keep journalists honest” in her acclaimed work during the Scooter Libby trial. Speaking on the same panel, Jefferson Morley of the Center for Independent Media drew a sharp distinction between the two camps, putting himself squarely on the side of journalism.

The question is: Where’s the line? I spoke with Tracy Van Slyke, director of the Media Consortium, and she said that the blurring of advocacy and journalism could be a good thing. She said the mix hearkens back to the original intent of journalism, which is to “inform and to activate” people. At the same time, she stressed that journalists should be transparent about their biases and affiliations. Van Slyke, who directs a network that includes outlets such as In These Times, Air America Radio, and Grist.org, aims to “build the echo” within the progressive media.

There is, however, a danger in building a left-wing echo chamber that Van Slyke acknowledges. As the Democrats begin to take power in Washington, the progressive media can’t sacrifice its role as a watchdog of people in power, regardless of party affiliation. This is where the mix could become problematic, when a journalist’s role as an advocate strains journalistic integrity.

For more on the National Conference for Media Reform, click here.