Module JG010

Advocacy Journalism

Module author

Tanni Haas

City University of New York

Learning objectives After studying this module, you will be able to:
  • Define advocacy journalism and explain what it stands for;
  • Give an overview of the historic development of the genre, including key persons who established advocacy journalism;
  • Reflect this genre critically.
Study point 1
Reading extract Advocacy Journalism


Why Open School of Journalism believes that Advocacy Journalism is important zu know

Journalism is the activity or profession of collecting, researching, writing and summarizing news and information for dissemination or broadcast to a larger audience. As such, it is of singular importance to all societies. It is of special importance to democracies and other forms of government where an informed citizenry is crucial in making policy and in influencing and electing government officials. 

In it purest form, journalism is characterized by a straightforward presentation of the facts with no or minimal interpretation. Verification and accuracy of the subject material is stressed. Objectivity and avoidance of overt bias are important for competent classical journalism. 

As might be expected in such an important endeavor, different genres of journalism have developed. Among these are advocacy journalism, activist journalism, blogging, and watchdog journalism, to name a few.

Advocacy journalism is that genre of journalism that intentionally provides information with a non-objective point of view. Almost always, this genre is used in social, political and geopolitical spheres. Although some may consider it a form of propaganda, this is not true because advocacy journalism is intended to represent the facts clearly, although definitely from a particular point of view. 

In the past, criticism, opinion and advocacy were generally restricted to the editorial page of the newspapers and print media. Today, the mainstream media, alternative media, corporate blogs, special interest magazines and niche websites increasingly practice advocacy journalism without relegating this content to the editorial page.

The origins of advocacy journalism are somewhat obscure. Interestingly, the NAACP's official magazine, The Crisis, founded in 1910, claims to have its origin in advocacy writings of the early 1800's. 

Today, examples of advocacy journalism are ubiquitous. One of the clearest examples of this can be found in the published materials from major American political parties, where information is discussed from the particular party's point of view and bias, with the intent of influencing public opinion. Certain types of investigative reporting can be considered as advocacy journalism. Current events, especially those that are potentially divisive, also provide an abundance of subject material for advocacy journalism. Presently or recently popular topics such as the use of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in hydrocarbon exploration, the causes of global climate change and the direction of public policy with regard to a potential Ebola epidemic are all examples of good fodder materials for advocacy journalism.

Critics of advocacy journalism argue that the biased content produced lacks objectivity and can prejudice the public. Some journalists reject this notion, suggesting that pure objectivity is difficult to achieve. They would argue that receiving information from several sources, with different points of view, is incumbent on the consumer of journalistic content. Other journalists, however, reject this view and maintain that it is the writer's obligation to be objective, explicitly point out bias and opinion, and let the reader decide how to interpret the information. 

Clearly, knowledge of the genre of advocacy journalism is necessary for both the professional journalist as well as the consumer of advocacy content. Recognizing the difference between classic journalism and advocacy journalism may be subtle but are critically important to the layperson. Also, a strong awareness of the differences between advocacy journalism and other genres of journalism, nuanced as they may be, are critical for the professional journalist to master.