A contested term with defenders and critics, advocacy journalism refers to a genre of journalism that combines reporting with a point of view. With roots as far as the origins of journalism itself, as a contemporary practice it can be found—to varying degrees—in all kinds of media outlets across the globe. Its key premise is that journalists participate in the mass-mediated public sphere and that their work deliberately and transparently stands for specific perspectives, with stories actively championing for certain ideas and values. While some authors have labeled advocacy as the binary opposite of objective (factual) reporting, in recent decades several journalism scholars and practitioners have argued that this is not the case, and that advocacy and informing are not necessarily mutually exclusive. At the core of this discussion are normative considerations of how journalism should be, the role of objectivity in news reporting, and professional models shaping news cultures and news content in different regions. Ethical concerns are also common arguments in this debate. Advocate journalists do not necessarily dismiss objectivity—although some do—and insist they adhere to professional standards nonetheless, since they still do journalism rather than propaganda. Promoters of advocacy also argue that having a situated viewpoint is more transparent, whereas critics argue against what they deem news reporting with an agenda or promoting an ideological campaign. More recently, advocacy journalism has been adopted—and adapted—by nongovernmental organizations and civic movements, which highlights the constant redefinitions of journalism practice outside of legacy media and traditional contexts.
Ingrid Bachmann Cáceres
Journalism defined itself as a profession in opposition to sensationalism and propaganda at the beginning of the 20th century. The American Society of News Editors statement of principles was written to codify “sound practice and just aspirations” of journalism after the public learned how the press was complicit in misinforming and deceiving the American people during World War I. As part of a massive propaganda campaign to win support for the war, the government fed false information and misleading stories to the press to make the public see the war as they desired it to be seen. Most definitions of propaganda converge toward the idea of organized influence on group attitudes through manipulation of symbols for a desired purpose of propagandist. The ASNE 1923 statement of principles clearly differentiated journalism from propaganda by its processes (to inform and scrutinize) and its purpose (to hold power accountable). However, many times since then the news media have been often accused of unintentionally becoming one of the most effective vehicles of political propaganda. Journalism’s proximity to the political world, and at the same time its obligation to bring independent and impartial scrutiny to that world, creates a set of contradictions and opens cracks where propaganda can get a foothold. In the political world, truth is to a large degree subjective and irreducible to facts. Journalistic practices that equate truth to a collection of facts, without questioning of why these particular facts are chosen and how they are presented, introduce various biases that amount to propaganda. Subtle suggestions based on facts, and faulty interpretations that do not follow from facts make propaganda truly dangerous because it is hidden behind ideologies of a free and objective press. With the growing mastery of media technology, propaganda is becoming an even more formidable force, perhaps easier to detect but more difficult to combat.
Bruce W. Hardy
The relationship between public opinion and journalism has long been a considered a cornerstone of modern functioning democracies. This important relationship has been the focus of scholarship across broad disciplines such as journalism studies, communication, sociology, philosophy, and political science. One hundred and twenty years ago, French sociologist Gabrielle Tarde outlined the press–conversation–opinion–action model to illustrate the role that the press and journalists have on initiating conversation among citizens, forming public opinion, and how this opinion translates into civic action that fosters social change. Highly related to Tarde’s press–conversation–opinion–action model are current theories of journalism and public opinion such as agenda-setting, priming, the two-step flow hypothesis, diffusion of innovation, and the spiral of silence. All of these theories relate to how the press can inform citizens, foster interactions with others, shape their opinions, and mobilize citizens into civic engagement and political action. However, in today’s mobile, digital, and highly segmented communication landscape defined by “post-truth” and “alternative facts” and where emotions resonate more than evidence because of audience biases and identity protective cognition, the problem of the spread of misinformation has caused a great deal of consternation among journalists, pundits, and public opinion scholars, leading to a global rise in fact-checking. But because much of the misleading and deceptive claims in today’s communication environment appear first on social media, there is currently a fervent quest for automated computational fact-checking.
Stephen J. A. Ward
Journalism objectivity or news objectivity had its origins in Western media cultures, especially in the United States, in the early 20th century. The principle, however, has found its way into codes of ethics and journalism education in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In 2018, objectivity is a controversial norm. Within the field of journalism ethics, the issue is whether objectivity as traditionally understood—a neutral reporting of “just the facts”—remains a valid ideal. In society, the debate swirls around the future of democratic public spheres and the need for reliable news sources. Misinformation and partisan voices threaten to swamp public channels of information. How can citizens distinguish truth from falsity in journalism? Objective from subjective reports? Informed analysis from biased opinion? The prehistory of objectivity is, in large part, the history of objectivity, truth, and fact in the culture. This is because journalists defined their notion of objectivity by adapting notions from philosophy, science, and the ambient culture. The central notion of news objectivity is that reporters should be neutral stenographers of fact, eliminating their opinions and interpretations from their reports. By the middle of the 1900s onward, this idea of objectivity as just the facts was subjected to a withering critique by journalists who sought a more engaged journalism and academics who rejected the idea of neutral facts. Also, the early 21st-century digital revolution created online communication that favored an interpretive journalism skeptical of neutrality and objectivity. The study and advancement of truth and objectivity in journalism is thus left in a difficult position. Should journalists go back to a 19th-century libertarian view of truth and democracy as requiring only a free clash of opinion? Should they revive or redefine news objectivity? Or should they rethink journalism ethics from the ground up, leaving news objectivity behind?
Jesper Strömbäck and Adam Shehata
Political journalism constitutes one of the most prominent domains of journalism, and is essential for the functioning of democracy. Ideally, political journalism should function as an information provider, watchdog, and forum for political discussions, thereby helping citizens understand political matters and help prevent abuses of power. The extent to which it does is, however, debated. Apart from normative ideals, political journalism is shaped by factors at several levels of analysis, including the system level, the media organizational level, and the individual level. Not least important for political journalism is the close, interdependent, and contentious relationship with political actors, shaping both the processes and the content of political journalism. In terms of content, four key concepts in research on political journalism in Western democratic systems are the framing of politics as a strategic game, interpretive versus straight news, conflict framing and media negativity, and political or partisan bias. A review of research related to these four concepts suggests that political journalism has a strong tendency to frame politics as a strategic game rather than as issues, particularly during election campaigns; that interpretive journalism has become more common; that political journalism has a penchant for conflict framing and media negativity; and that there is only limited evidence that political journalism is influenced by political or partisan bias. Significantly more important than political or partisan bias are different structural and situational biases. In all these and other respects, there are important differences across countries and media systems, which follows from the notion that political journalism is always influenced by the media systems in which it is produced and consumed.