How do you compel readers to action without being an advocate yourself?

Host: Emily Guerin

Participants: Sue Salinger
Caitlin Alexander
Jennifer Lehman
Sarah Ford
Ted Anthony
Kevin Frey
Barbara Meghen Smith
Greg Smith
Sarah Gelder
Rob Williams

Emily: Read High Country News’s mission statement, emphasizing second sentence: “Its mission is to inform and inspire people–through in-depth journalism–to act on behalf of the West’s diverse natural and human communities.” Said organization has internal strife over whether it sounds too advocacy-oriented.

Ted: Said the mission statement is vague enough to be OK–his beef would be what you’re acting on behalf of.

Greg: Raised the difference between empowering people to act and advocating for what they should do.

Ted: Wondered if people are stumbling over the word “inspire.” Inspiring advocacy versus advocating.

Sue: Doesn’t think you can inspire advocacy in others without pushing a position.

Peggy: InvestigateWest looks for solutions

Sarah: explains solutions-oriented journalism, which is what Yes! Magazine does. Says people can name 1000 problems, but no solutions. Showing a solution to a problem is not advocacy. But she wishes they could be more critical of solutions and assign a reporter to look into each one.

Ted: it depends how the solutions are presented

Greg: Is Politifact advocacy?

Peggy: writing about something we all agree on–say, the well-being of our children–is not advocacy

Sue: but there are some things people would say threaten our children, like fracking, that not everyone agrees with

Barb: references Kelly McBride’s talk from earlier in the day. A principal of journalism: to tell the whole truth, not just your perspective.

Emily: gave an example of a story where the reporter went in wanting to undermine a politician. wrote a long, well-researched, excellent story, but didn’t disclose his intentions.

Ted: starting with a conclusion should be showed up front–worried the reporter had “confirmation bias,” i.e. he found what he went looking for

Greg: gave a counter example from RI, where reporters didn’t cover a corrupt politician

Ted: just not liking someone is not bias. you have to want to undermine them in some way or dig up dirt.

Greg: wonders if advocacy has to be conscious.

Sarah: perpetuating the dominant worldview without questioning it is advocacy. i.e., all economic growth is good. says a lot of reporters write as if that is always good.

Emily: back to her example. if the reporter in question had started the story with no assumptions and ended up in the same place as the one that was written, does it matter?

Ted: appearance of conflict of interest is as bad as an actual conflict. the reason you go into a story matters.

Barb: said the reporter should have backed up the story and explained why he wanted to undermine the politician’s campaign, how he’d reported on the guy for years and began to distrust him.

Sue: says advocacy’s purpose is to create social change

Ted: prefers the term “unbiased” to “objective.” said it’s important how you come to conclusions, and questioned whether the reporter should have continued to cover the politician once he had a strong opinion.

Sue: journalism already has an advocacy-oriented mission: to create a more-informed democracy

Greg: you can inspire advocacy without advocating by showing success, which will inspire people to act