Journalist as Advocate
September 15, 2011
The word 'advocacy' has a slightly pejorative ring to it, or somehow seems antithetical in some respects to the traditional notions of journalism as centering on the task of reporting 'objectively' around a subject or event, or responding to it in an analytical / critical fashion. It's easy to confuse advocacy with public relations.
The other issue with advocacy as it relates to journalism is that it's easy to reduce the term to an expression of simply 'liking' something. For example, if a theatre critic gives a show a positive review, it makes him or her, in the narrowest sense, an advocate of the production.
But for me, advocacy is a much deeper and broader idea -- and one that I feel should have a core place in journalism.
My vocal music media project, VoiceBox (a public radio and podcast series and website dedicated to exploring the art of the human voice) is a sort of hybrid between journalism and advocacy.
On the one hand, it involves a lot of research, reporting and interviewing. Each radio show/podcast is put together using many of the same techniques and impulses that I might apply to an article for The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.
On the other hand, one of the core missions of the project is to advocate for the vocal arts. What does this mean in practice? I'll tell you what it doesn't mean: It's not that VoiceBox seeks to bash people over the head with the message 'everyone should get out and sing and support vocal music as listeners too!' Neither do I refrain from making critical comments about particular singers or styles of singing on air if it's appropriate to do so.
Yet advocacy for the vocal arts is crucial to what I'm trying to achieve with VoiceBox. It's the guiding principle that underpins the project. The advocacy element of VoiceBox is what keeps the project on track and stops it from veering into some terrain where I don't think it should go, such as PR. It's at the root of every decision I make.
My thinking on the link between journalism and advocacy is in its infancy as you can tell if you've managed to stick with this post up to this point. I would love any thoughts or suggestions with regards to how others view the relationship. Feel free to respond in the comments section!