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Helping the Almost-Journalists Do Journalism

UPDATED

Doing journalism at its most basic level is a combination of two essential tasks. The first is reporting — gathering information via research, interviews, etc. The second part is telling your audience what you’ve learned — writing (in the broadest sense, including video, audio, graphics and more) and editing.

The demolition of the professional journalism business model has led to a sharp decline, one I don’t see slowing anytime soon, in traditional media. Many people in the field have been asking an obvious question with a not-so-obvious answer: Who will do the serious journalism we need in the future?

I have another question that will lead us to an answer. Not the answer, but one strong possibility — if we start thinking about, and helping, the “almost-journalists” among us to do actual journalism.

Anyway, here’s the question:

What famous journalism organization has, until very recently*, done the best reporting (remember, that’s the gathering process) about the United States government’s Guantanamo Bay prison? That’s the place where the United States holds the people the government has declared to be terrorists, a prison where prisoners have been in many cases tortured and, until recently, held without access to the legal system.

The people who’ve done the best reporting on this scandal have not, for the most part, been working for major media outfits. They’ve been working for that famous journalism organization called the American Civil Liberties Union.

Yes, the ACLU, which has done prodigious work to uncover the truth about America’s actions in creating this extra-legal system, shrouded in secrecy and in general disregard for international law and norms, not to mention America’s traditional respect for human rights. And on the ACLU’s “Rights in Detention” sub-site, you’ll find a huge amount of information — and advocacy — about this topic.

Note the word “advocacy,” because it’s critical here. The ACLU is an advocate, a passionate one, for the Bill of Rights. It is utterly up-front in that advocacy, and is working hard to change our policies in a variety of areas.

Now consider Human Rights Watch, the mission of which is “Defending Human Rights Worldwide.” It’s another advocacy organization that does superb reporting on the issues it cares about and they produces media to spread its message. Take a look, for example, at its report on Saudi Arabian domestic workers to see an exhaustively researched document on some troubling practices.

And then check out the Council on Foreign Relations “Crisis Guides” — see, for example, this one about Darfur – that provide remarkably detailed coverage of global political crises. As the judges of the Knight-Batten Awards said of the council when honoring its work, “This is an institution stepping up and honoring the best of journalism. It’s filling an absolutely articulated need.”

What the council did was journalism, by any standard. It lived up to the vital principles of journalism: thoroughness, accuracy, fairness, independence and transparency.

What the ACLU and Human Rights Watch did was what I’m calling almost-journalism. Their reporting was superb, but what they produced fell just a shade this side of journalism. They didn’t fully apply journalistic principles to their media, and that’s a shame.

Their media? Yes. They are absolutely in the media field now, because they are using the tools of media creation to learn and tell stories, and to make those stories available to a wide audience. These organizations and countless others like them — small and large, local and international — are part of the media ecosystem. With just a little extra effort, they could be part of the journalistic ecosystem too, in ways that go far beyond their traditional roles.

Consider the former public-knowledge trajectory an organization like the ACLU had to follow in the past. It would do painstaking research on topics like Guantanamo, and then it would issue reports. Its public relations people would contact reporters at, say, the New York Times and hope that the newspaper would pick up the story. If the national press ignored the report, no matter how powerful the content, the information would be known to a tiny number of people.

The ACLU still works hard to get its reports covered by the Times and other national media organizations. The traditional media retain a powerful role in helping the public learn about important issues. But advocates have new avenues, which they are learning to use more effectively.

They’d be even more effective, I believe, if they applied the principles of journalism to their work.

They’re falling short today in several areas, notably the one that comes hardest to advocates: fairness. This is a broad and somewhat fuzzy word. But it means, in general, that you a) listen hard to people who disagree with you; b) hunt for facts and data that are contrary to your own stand; and c) reflect disagreements and nuances in what you tell the rest of us.

Advocacy journalism has a long and honorable history. But the best in this arena have always acknowledged the disagreements and nuances, and they’ve been fair in reflecting opposing or orthogonal views and ideas.

By doing so, they can strengthen their own arguments in the end. At the very least they are clearer, if not absolutely clear, on the other sides’ arguments, however weak. (That’s sides, not side; there are almost never only two sides to anything.)

Of course, transparency is essential in this process, and for the most part we get it from advocacy groups. The one we can’t trust are the ones who take positions that echo the views of financial patrons. The think-tank business is known for this kind of thing, and it’s an abysmal practice.

As the traditional journalism business implodes financially, the almost-journalists are going to play an increasingly important role in the ecosystem. As traditional journalism companies are firing reporters and editors right and left, the almost-journalist organizations have both the deep pockets and staffing to fill in some of the gap — if they’ll find a way to apply those old and new journalistic practices to their media, whether it’s designed to inform or advocate.

We in the journalism education business have a special role. We can help the almost-journalists — the ones who want the help — to understand and apply these principles.

If we can get this right, the advocates and think tanks will have more credibility. The public will have more credible information sources. Isn’t that what we all want, and need?

UPDATE: My friend and colleague Ethan Zuckerman pushes back. In a meeting today at Harvard’s Berkman Center he observes that Human Rights Watch gets funding from the same foundations that support his own Global Voices Online project. They’re competing for a limited pool of money, he notes — and, besides, this doesn’t solve the who’ll-pay-for-journalism question but rather shifts it one level away from the reader/viewer/listener.

I’d respond this way: Yes, GV and HRW compete, and yes, in some ways we’re only shifting the sustainability question. But I still think it’s a good idea to elevate (if that’s the right word) the NGO-almost-journalism? As long as these groups are doing something so close, a small amount of leverage can produce some great new supply — and that’s worthwhile in its own right.

Also, see this posting by Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, where he accurately says:

It has been left to the ACLU and similar groups (such as the Center for Constitutional Rights and Electronic Frontier Foundation) to uncover what our Government is doing precisely because the institutions whose responsibility that is — the “opposition party,” the Congress, the Intelligence Committees, the press — have failed miserably in those duties.

Yes, there have been many failures, leaving these openings for advocates. But they’ve always been a key source of material for reporters; what’s crucially changed is that they are now media outlets in their own right.

* And, the qualifier near the top, where I said the best journalism has been done about Guantanamo until “very recently,” had come from the ACLU, linked to the McClatchy Washington bureau’s brilliant series that ran in June, “Guantanamo: Beyond the Law” — a explainer that everyone should read. Naturally, other journalists basically ignored it, exemplifying the not-invented-here syndrome that weirdly continues to afflict the craft.

Finally, welcome to BoingBoing readers, and a thank you to BoingBoing for the pointer.

39 Comments on “Helping the Almost-Journalists Do Journalism”

  1. #1 Seth Finkelstein
    on Jul 23rd, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    I’m repeating myself, but:

    In the old media:

    “Its public relations people would contact reporters at, say, the New York Times and hope that the newspaper would pick up the story. If the national press ignored the report, no matter how powerful the content, the information would be known to a tiny number of people.”

    In the new media:

    Its public relations people would contact A-listers at, say, the Huffington Post and hope that the blog would pick up the story. If the A-lister ignored the report, no matter how powerful the content, the information would be known to a tiny number of people.

    To a first-order approximation, THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE. To a second-order approximation, if anything, the new system is WORSE, because the A-list blog system intensifies many of the worst aspects of the older media.

    Dan, it was a nice try at coming up with an answer to one of the fundamental questions dogging the destruction of journalism. But the flaw is right here: “By doing so, they can strengthen their own arguments in the end”. In a purely popularity-driven system like blogging, there’s no incentive for being accurate over being fast and appealing.

  2. #2 Can ACLU and other advocacy orgs be journalists too? | MashTopic
    on Jul 23rd, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    [...] Link [...]

  3. #3 Can ACLU and other advocacy orgs be journalists too? - taccato! trend tracker, cool hunting, new business ideas
    on Jul 23rd, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    [...] Link [...]

  4. #4 Lindsay Beyerstein
    on Jul 24th, 2008 at 6:49 am

    Blogging is no more popularity-driven than any other medium. Traditional media live or die by popularity as well. What else would you call newspaper circulations and TV ratings?

  5. #5 Rethinking Media, Democracy and Citizenship » Helping the almost journalists be journalists
    on Jul 24th, 2008 at 7:27 am

    [...] Gilmour, author of We The Media, has an article on the Center for Citizen Media about the future of journalism lying in the helping of what he [...]

  6. #6 Constantine von Hoffman
    on Jul 24th, 2008 at 8:33 am

    This post should be sent to the communications people at every non-profit and advocacy group there is. Hopefully these groups can learn the value of becoming an information source that is trusted by everyone not just the people who already agree with it. Somebody has to put transparency into journalism and it would be great if these were the groups that did it.

    As to Mr. Finkelstein’s point, I have a question: I think that blogs that give credible, reliable information may be read by smaller groups but they can be even more influential because of who reads them. Can’t popularity be measured in many different ways?

  7. #7 Smarty pants links
    on Jul 24th, 2008 at 8:49 am

    [...] Gilmore has a piece at Center for Citizen Media about helping “almost-journalists”  like the ACLU do real journalism… The ACLU [...]

  8. #8 Steve Sergeant
    on Jul 24th, 2008 at 8:59 am

    Dan, This is exactly what I’ve been struggling with for the past couple of years.

    As a podcaster and radio documentary producer, I’ve been working the beat of America’s wilderness and wild public lands, wilderness recreation, and outdoor sports. As a non-profit, the support I’ve been able to find is pushing me toward the advocacy side. Underwriters, foundations, philanthropists, and listener members have all become more energetic and supportive as I’ve let my work swing in a more advocacy-oriented direction.

    When I was trying to do “impartial” journalism, the reaction was boredom. The feedback was that the work lacked “passion”, “import”, and “voice”. As I let more opinion and “attitude” into my stories, the audience interest has increased as well. My existing sponsors would like to make me less Cronkhite and more Howard Beale.

    I really like your analysis. But I agree with Seth Finkelstein that this trend is worrisome.

  9. #9 Can ACLU and other advocacy orgs be journalists too? « Spot.Us - Community Funded Reporting
    on Jul 24th, 2008 at 9:08 am

    [...] Link   [...]

  10. #10 Conor Kenny
    on Jul 24th, 2008 at 10:19 am

    I saw this phenomenon strongly in play as far back as 2003 when I worked for a public interest group. As an investigative researcher on Congress and the presidency, my job was to find and work on stories that the press was not going to cover on their own.

    We would produce 30-60 page reports that we gave as an exclusive to reporters at one of the big papers, along with an inches-thick sources file. We’d release the report widely the day their story ran. In exchange we would get a prominent quote or three. (Which was primarily how we judged our success – a sorry model that I’ve lately heard Matt Stoller rightly castigating.)

    As an advocacy group our incentive was to increase awareness of our issue (and get those quote counts up!). In order to maintain credibility we had complete transparency of sourcing and knew that if we burned a reporter on a statement of fact, even if it was simply distorting them to fit our thesis, the trusting relationship we had built would be done for.

    I generally found the reason the press hadn’t looked into a story on their own was not that they weren’t smart enough to see it but that they didn’t see it as sexy enough to devote precious resources to – I spent many days just crunching data.

    As one of the advocacy almost-journalists you mention (I had no journalistic training whatsoever), our work contributed quality information to the public discourse in an honest and open fashion, so I agree that they absolutely are bringing something to the table.

    I don’t have an answer to Ethan’s excellent point that the public interest funding pot is something of a zero sum game.

    However, another question this discussion raises in my mind is why more media companies haven’t come to see the newsroom as what it is – a public-interest organization. Why haven’t more news operations gone non-profit? Are there insurmountable tax reasons why you couldn’t have a non-profit newsroom operating within a for-profit company? I’d happily support a bargain where media companies could write-off their entire newsroom operation in exchange for putting the reporting it produces into the public domain after, say, 48 hours.

  11. #11 Jon Garfunkel
    on Jul 24th, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Dan,

    “Almost-journalists”? Why not just call them researchers?

    The distinguishing feature of “news” over a research report is its sensibility. Researchers prefer data, while a news story seeks to draw out the humanity of the story. So, naturally, researchers are trying to introduce more anecdotes. (See Radley Balko’s Botched Paramilitary Police Raids– very well done– published by the Cato Institute. I was less prejudiced by Cato’s politics than the expectation that it would be a dry research report.)

    Next question: why do newspapers & blogs still get more attention than a “sense-appealing” PBS documentary or an online research report? My sense is that it’s the ephemerality of the medium. People feel they have to comment right away on a NYT story or BB post, since tomorrow there’s going to be a new story. So, not surprisingly, NGO’s have started to blog in order to give that sense of urgency.

    Jon

    Jon

  12. #12 Dan Gillmor
    on Jul 25th, 2008 at 4:31 am

    Jon, this is all open to interpretation and nuance. I think of researchers as folks who look things up, often to help other people’s work. Of course some researchers write their own stuff, too.

    I’m using “almost journalists” to make a point.

    Mass media gets more attention because it’s, well, aimed at the masses. Mass media journalism tells stories, for the most part. No surprise that it gets more attention than pure data.

  13. #13 Jon Garfunkel
    on Jul 25th, 2008 at 5:33 am

    Ok, good. Storytelling is one thing that distinguishes journalism from research. You had omitted that in your original post above, so I pointed it out.

    I’m unmoved by the “almost journalist” label. PR flacks are “almost journalists” as well.

  14. #14 Tom McLoughlin
    on Jul 25th, 2008 at 5:45 am

    Mmm. Too late to read the comments just to add from my community media ngo experience, Mandela waxes lyrical about ‘a freedom fighter wants to read the major press NOT because it’s all true but to get an idea of what’s going on, and just as important, get an idea of what everyone else is thinking is going on, ie the state of the audience’.

    Okay, so …as big meeja shrinks and expands as more diverse web segments – there will be no monolithic mass audience to check the pulse of anymore? Mandela’s rationale for democratic agitators to engage is eroding in this process.

    I have one other take on all this – the net, and web cameras, and remote hijacking of the PC is just a little too close to Winston Smith and Big Brother in the home for my comfort. It only takes one little law (‘for your own safety and protection’ etc) and the computer becomes a Govt spy.

    And who is best placed to fight such anti democracy? In the 17C it would have been the pamphleteers. Today it would be … the traditional press …again. Assuming they are up for the vocation, not just the dough, in a reprise of the Big Media/newspaper story.

  15. #15 Tom Stites
    on Jul 25th, 2008 at 6:45 am

    Dan, I’ve been reflecting on this and I’m struck that the “almost” that distinguishes journalists from the ACLU folks who do the invaluable digging is the character of the institution that does the publishing.

    News organizations strive for, but never fully achieve, detachment. The public expects this of them, and if they fail often enough their news becomes devalued.

    Advocacy organizations, by contrast, make no pretense of detachment. If they were to strive for detachment and present their information as news, people still won’t be able to read it that way.

    So I think the old model works, but can be improved as standard journalism starts routinely using obvious web tools — every story about an ACLU report, or about an American Enterprise Institute report, should link to the full report so that interested readers can judge for themselves. For reasons I can’t grasp, this is a rare practice on newspaper sites.

    And as an editor who for many years made decisions on how newspapers used precious resources, I fully agree Connor Kenney’s observation that “I generally found the reason the press hadn’t looked into a story on their own was not that they weren’t smart enough to see it but that they didn’t see it as sexy enough to devote precious resources to – I spent many days just crunching data.”

    Tom

  16. #16 Seth Finkelstein
    on Jul 25th, 2008 at 6:55 am

    Jon: “PR flacks are “almost journalists” as well”

    Good example. One could similarly engage in wishful thinking that “They’d be even more effective, I believe, if they applied the principles of journalism to their work.”. And it would be obvious that idea was nonsense. It’s not what they have an incentive to do, not how they judge their success.

  17. #17 Dan Gillmor
    on Jul 25th, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    Tom, where we differ is in whether the detachment of traditional media is all that valuable. Example: When I’m in London I buy the Guardian and the Telegraph. Neither is detached; both have world views, and those world views are not polar opposites, but very much of what we might call the mainstream left and right. Yet after reading them I am fairly sure I have been able to triangulate on something close to reality.

    Seth and Jon, I wouldn’t put PR people in this category. Their job definition essentially proscribes fairness. It’s a lousy example.

  18. #18 Seth Finkelstein
    on Jul 25th, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    Dan, the problem with “triangulating” is like thinking two wrongs make a right. It’s a very pernicious idea that all we need is a huge amount of bloviating gasbaggery and we then each should undertake to dig through it all to find the underlying reality (often this is hyped as “the wisdom of crowds”). However, those who make a living off promoting ranting, typically advocate exactly that sort of model. We can then end up with dueling partisan demagoguery on all sides, where you can’t make a silk purse no matter how many sow’s ears you have. And almost everyone is too busy to do that sort of grunt-work.

    Regarding examples, the ACLU folks are a bunch of lawyers. No disrespect to them, meaning this just as a statement of fact, their job definition is very specifically that they are NOT to be fair, but to be a “zealous advocate” for their client, whomever it is.

  19. #19 Delia
    on Jul 26th, 2008 at 8:42 am

    I’m not sure if this is what Jon meant, but a true researcher (not the kind that gets paid to look up things so that *others* can use them… the term seems a misnomer in such circumstances) is much more than just a journalist. There are lousy researchers and there are great journalists, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that doing serious research and doing serious journalism are just not at the same level, although these are both useful endeavors. Striving to be a true researcher, as opposed to a journalist, is a higher goal.

    Delia

    P.S.And I agree with Seth… dumping the whole analysis process in the lap of the readers because the journalist just can’t be perfectly objective sounds like a copout to me… and the readers truly don’t have the time to do your job for you :) — (I don’t mean *you*, in particular…) D.

  20. #20 Persephone Miel
    on Jul 26th, 2008 at 10:15 am

    Dan et al,

    Great discussion, I’ve blogged about it here: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/mediarepublic/2008/07/25/advocacy-or-journalism/ (don’t know why i can’t get a trackback to work)

    Very curious to know if any of you all know Public News Service http://www.publicnewsservice.org/ and what you think of it.

    Also, what do we think about the practice of high-brow non-profit PR, what NPR calls “designated support. (see my post and/or http://www.npr.org/about/place/corpsupport/foundationsupport.html)

    Persephone
    PS Seth – I would argue that comparing triangulating between the Guardian and the Telegraph with sifting through right- and left-wing blogerish is apples and oranges. The Guardian and the Telegraph’s target audiences are both far more diverse than say the DailyKos and their content reflects. What Dan’s talking about is something very different, that excellent journalism can have (and even be improved by) a strong point of view.

  21. #21 Jon Garfunkel
    on Jul 27th, 2008 at 7:19 am

    Persephone wrote: “What Dan’s talking about is something very different, that excellent journalism can have (and even be improved by) a strong point of view.”

    Well, sort of. I thought he was trying to explain how advocacy groups, who already have a strong point of view, can get more credibility by making certain concession to journalism.

    And the overall point here is a bit unclear. We can either discuss (a) how to make the public more informed, by expanding the number of “credible” resources or (b) how a single advocacy/educatational organization can get more eyeballs / attention / funding.

    (b) is a much more narrow problem.

  22. #22 Dan Gillmor
    on Jul 27th, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Jon, solve b) and you’ve gone some distance toward solving a).

  23. #23 alan herrell - the head lemur
    on Jul 28th, 2008 at 7:35 am

    Dan,

    It is a bitter pill when the industry you love is dying, and the face of it is changing, as you mentioned these groups becoming their own media outlets. Probably more horrifying are the millions of folks with keyboards, and internet connections whose contributions are rooted in passion over process.
    But I digress…

    I have to take issue with some of your assertions. You characterize Journalism as

    “Doing journalism at its most basic level is a combination of two essential tasks. The first is reporting — gathering information via research, interviews, etc. The second part is telling your audience what you’ve learned — writing (in the broadest sense, including video, audio, graphics and more) and editing. ”

    To my tiny brain reporting is the endgame, with the gathering of information, research, interviews, and writing and editing, as the first task.
    Reporting is the second task, where you actually kick the story out the door.

    Typifying Advocacy groups and its practitioners as somehow defective by not having a ”traditional media outlet” providing some sort of stamp of approval, and not being vetted by some copy editor is insulting to not only advocacy groups, and readers, but presupposes that readers cannot think, and unless it is run through an editorial sausage grinder it cannot present an accurate picture.

    One of the areas that traditional media is still late to the party is in transparency of source materials,(i.e. links, bias, and disclosure).
    This is the ‘always at war with eurasia problem’.

    If generating 500 words of copy from a 12 word sound bite is the best traditional journalism has to offer, perhaps a rethinking of what journalism is may have some merit.

  24. #24 Dan Gillmor
    on Jul 28th, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    Alan, I use “reporting” in a different context than you do. I would call the “kick the story out the door” piece the availability/distribution element, not the reporting or writing/editing.

    I don’t think advocacy groups are doing anything defective EXCEPT in a journalism context (at least the ones that don’t lie). They do immensely valuable work, which I believe could be made even more credible by applying some journalistic principles.

    Transparency is indeed lacking in traditional journalism, I agree.

  25. #25 Seth Finkelstein
    on Jul 29th, 2008 at 5:02 am

    Persephone: I’m very suspicious of blog-evangelist arguments along the lines of “excellent journalism can have (and even be improved by) a strong point of view.”. Because while that sentence can be made true by the appropriate narrow reading, THE SYSTEM ITSELF has next to no incentive for “excellent journalism”, and intense incentive for that “strong point of view”. As many people have repeatedly pointed out, being fast and popular is rewarded much more highly than careful and accurate. Since ranting is where the money is, I see many arguments which seem designed to serve that interest by telling people that ranters are really journalists or nearly so, and disagreeing with that assertion is elitist doesn’t-get-it oldthink.

    Repeating myself, I see no evidence that Dan is right in his post, merely a wish that it would be great if it were that way. And I also contend there’s an unwillingness to deal with the fact that there’s plenty of evidence he’s wrong, since that evidence goes against the whole project of substituting profitable opinionating or partisanness for very unprofitable journalism.

  26. #26 Dan Gillmor
    on Jul 29th, 2008 at 8:15 am

    Seth, you seem to believe that there’s no such thing as advocacy journalism. The evidence is entirely clear that it does exist, and that it is extremely useful.

  27. #27 Seth Finkelstein
    on Jul 29th, 2008 at 10:11 am

    > Seth, you seem to believe that there’s no such thing as advocacy journalism.

    Not at all! I are one!

    And hence, I know how little support there is for it.

    > The evidence is entirely clear that it does exist, and that it is extremely useful.

    Bam! Down goes the strawman!

    Look, the points being made are very straightforward. The incentives of blogging, and the “attention economy” so beloved by the conference-club, favor “advocacy” far more than “journalism”, because that’s how you get attention.

  28. #28 Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » Tuesday squibs: Learning stuff edition
    on Jul 29th, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    [...] Helping the Almost-Journalists Do Journalism. Dan Gillmor talks about some of the new journalism coming from unfamiliar sources and how journalists can help them by helping to add the principles of journalism to their work. (Okay, I realize that sounds awkward and wishy-washy. Go read the original.) [...]

  29. #29 Dan Gillmor
    on Jul 30th, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Seth, huh?

    You said there’s no support for advocacy journalism, and then said the only way to get attention is via advocacy.

  30. #30 Seth Finkelstein
    on Jul 30th, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    Wasn’t that clear?

    There’s very little support (not absolute zero impossible never happen – strawman) for advocacy journalism, that is, “a strong point of view” PLUS “a) listen hard to people who disagree with you; b) hunt for facts and data that are contrary to your own stand; and c) reflect disagreements and nuances in what you tell the rest of us.”

    The way to get attention is via advocacy ONLY, taken in the sense of basically inverting the list you give above – a) rant at people who disagree with you b) ignore facts and data that are contrary to your own stand c) strip away any disagreements and nuances.

    That’s what gets rewarded. Now, it’s not the absolutely only way to get attention – for example, being a celebrity or being very rich works also. But over and over in this thread, I and others keep telling you that being journalistic isn’t rewarded.

    Honestly, why is this a hard point? Is being an A-lister so blinding? It strikes me as one of the most obvious aspects of the bogosphere, where even the evangelists sometimes get close to saying it outright (the “attention economy” – NOT the “accuracy economy”).

  31. #31 Josh Wilson
    on Aug 1st, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    Because advocates do great investigations but slant their reports, you wind up shutting the door for wider public discourse because “that report is biased.”

    Furthermore, the topic itself gets isolated from discourse because the fact of that bias enables commercial outlets to ignore the report — it’s biased, after all — until the public need that motivated the advocacy report becomes unignorable — in other words, when it becomes a crisis.

    This makes the commercial mainstream perpetually behind the times on a host of vital issues. There’s low-hanging fruit, everywhere.

    At Newsdesk.org we’ve always seen this as an opportunity — to start with those thorough but biased investigations, then use that as a starting point for broad, deep and accessible coverage for all, not just for the advocate’s community.

    josh

  32. #32 Dan Gillmor
    on Aug 1st, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    There’s more financial support for journalism espousing a world view than for journalism that calls itself “objective” — that was my point. Clearly there’s more support for celebrity trivia and garbage than either of the above.

  33. #33 Seth Finkelstein
    on Aug 2nd, 2008 at 6:34 am

    While it may be true in a relative sense that there’s more support for “worldview journalism” than “called-objective” journalism, even if so, that doesn’t establish there’s much support in an absolute sense for either. But more importantly, it doesn’t respond to the point that if an organization is doing advocacy-not-journalism, they have little incentive to conform their work to the journalistic standards you give. And the structure of the bogosphere, the intense competition to get attention where accuracy is at best a matter of personal indulgence and at worst an outright drag, gives major incentives against those journalistic standards.

  34. #34 Dan Gillmor
    on Aug 2nd, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    We are obviously not going to agree. But I have responded directly to your points as far as I can tell. And I don’t see how the attention-getting phenomenon differs in blogs from its effect on traditional media. Somehow people who care end up gravitating to the quality stuff. They could use more help doing it, but that’s another issue.

  35. #35 Moshe
    on Aug 3rd, 2008 at 8:07 am

    The way to get attention is via advocacy ONLY, taken in the sense of basically inverting the list you give above – a) rant at people who disagree with you b) ignore facts and data that are contrary to your own stand c) strip away any disagreements and nuances.

  36. #36 James from Oz
    on Aug 7th, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    I come a bit late to this debate, but if anyone’s still reading … isn’t Journalistic fairness a bit of an anachronism in the internet age? Even-handedness is almost never achieved by a single writer in a single item. But it can be achieved by editors ensuring that antagonistic advocates get their right of reply. This was a challenge back in the years when a largely monolithic community of journalists monopolized the public channels, putting a huge responsibility for fairness on their shoulders. Now, journalists’ main responsibility is to verify facts beyond just the easy Google-research. Blogs and email letter columns now give opposing advocates a full opportunity to exercise right of reply, and the main problem is thoughtful voices being drowned out in the babble. Why teach advocates to tack comments from overly-talkative “experts” onto their press releases, when you can invite others to reply in full and in their own time? What the media needs now is more editors keeping the channels open, reducing clutter, and if necessary actively eliciting contributions from the quieter minorities. Then we can say John Stuart Mill’s marketplace of ideas has finally arrived.

  37. #37 Almost Journalists « The Fresh Press
    on Aug 21st, 2008 at 8:15 am

    [...] To continue reading, visit: Center for Citizen Media [...]

  38. #38 Media Re:public
    on Aug 21st, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Advocacy or journalism?…

    Is Amnesty International a media organization? Should they (or any other activist non profit organization) aim to be one? Dan Gillmor has started a great discussion on his blog about this. He says we should be finding ways to get human rights, environm…

  39. #39 The “almost-journalism” plan | Antony Loewenstein
    on Oct 30th, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    [...] advocacy journalism a future model for investigative [...]