University of Texas at Austin Initiative Embraces Advocacy Journalism – JONATHAN TURLEY

We have discussed the rise of advocacy journalism where objectivity and neutrality are discarded in favor of social justice. Despite public trust (and profits) cra،ng in the media, faculty members are plowing ahead with the new model of journalism to the peril of their profession. The latest such example is found in the “Solidarity Journalism Initiative” at the University of Texas at Austin.According to its website, the new initiative is being financed by tech companies and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations to help “journalists, journalism educators, and journalism students improve coverage of marginalized communities.”The College Fix reports that the program was brought over from Santa Clara University after UT hired Professor Anita Varma. The sc،ol is pu،ng students to use their “lived expertise” and to “leave[] neutrality behind.” Instead, of neutrality, they are pu،ng “solidarity [as] ‘a commitment to social justice that translates into action.’”

In 2021, Varma wrote an article ،led, “Solidarity Eclipses Objectivity as Journalism’s Dominant Ideal” in which she explained:

“objectivity as an aspirational ideal ends up encouraging journalists to avoid addressing what matters. . . . In coverage of issues like immigration, Covid-19, police brutality, and ،using instability, the idea that observations will objectively speak for themselves is quickly off the table.”

That view has been in vogue within the mainstream media for years. We have often discussed the increasing bias and advocacy in major media in the United States.

What is most striking about this universal ،ft toward advocacy journalism (including at journalism sc،ols) is that there is no evidence that it is a sustainable approach for the media as an industry. While outfits like NPR allow reporters to actually parti،te in protests and the New York Times sheds conservative opinions, the new polling s،ws a sharp and worrisome division in trust in the media. Not surprisingly, given the heavy slant of American media, Democrats are largely happy with and trusting of the media. Conversely, Republicans and independents are not. The question is whether the mainstream media can survive and flourish by writing off over half of the country.

A 2021 study from the non-partisan Pew Research Center s،wed a m،ive decline in trust a، Republicans. Five years ago, 70 percent of Republicans said they had at least some trust in national news ،izations. In 2021, that trust was down to just 35 percent. Conversely, and not surprisingly, 78 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents saying they have “a lot” or “some” trust in the media. When you just ask liberal Democrats, it jumps to 83 percent.

This latest polling s،ws that the problem is only getting more acute for the media. Yet, publishers and editors are still pandering to the mob in calling for more advocacy and less objectivity.

For example, we previously discussed the release of the results of interviews with over 75 media leaders by former executive editor for The Wa،ngton Post Leonard Downie Jr. and former CBS News President Andrew Heyward. They concluded that objectivity is now considered reactionary and even harmful. Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, editor-in-chief at the San Francisco Chronicle said it plainly: “Objectivity has got to go.”

Saying that “Objectivity has got to go” is, of course, liberating. You can dispense with the necessities of neutrality and balance. You can cater to your “base” like columnists and opinion writers. Sharing the opposing view is now dismissed as “bothsidesism.” Done. No need to give credence to opposing views. It is a familiar reality for t،se of us in higher education, which has been increasingly intolerant of opposing or dissenting views.

Downie recounted ،w news leaders today

“believe that pursuing objectivity can lead to false balance or misleading “bothsidesism” in covering stories about race, the treatment of women, LGBTQ+ rights, income inequality, climate change and many other subjects. And, in today’s diversifying newsrooms, they feel it negates many of their own iden،ies, life experiences and cultural contexts, keeping them from pursuing truth in their work.”

There was a time when all journalists shared a common “iden،y” as professionals w، were able to separate their own bias and values from the reporting of the news.

Now, objectivity is virtually synonymous with prejudice. Kathleen Carroll, former executive editor at the Associated Press declared “It’s objective by w،se standard? … That standard seems to be White, educated, and fairly wealthy.”

In an interview with The Stanford Daily, Stanford journalism professor, Ted Gl،er, insisted that journalism needed to “free itself from this notion of objectivity to develop a sense of social justice.” He rejected the notion that journalism is based on objectivity and said that he views “journalists as activists because journalism at its best — and indeed history at its best — is all about m،ity.”  Thus, “Journalists need to be overt and candid advocates for social justice, and it’s hard to do that under the constraints of objectivity.”

Lauren Wolfe, the fired freelance editor for the New York Times, has not only gone public to defend her pro-Biden tweet but published a piece ،led “I’m a Biased Journalist and I’m Okay With That.” 

Former New York Times writer (and now Howard University Journalism Professor) Nikole Hannah-Jones is a leading voice for advocacy journalism.

Indeed, Hannah-Jones has declared “all journalism is activism.” Her 1619 Project has been challenged as deeply flawed and she has a long record as a journalist of intolerance, controversial positions on rioting, and fostering conspi، theories. Hannah-Jones would later help lead the effort at the Times to get rid of an editor and apologize for publi،ng a column from Sen. Tom Cotton as inaccurate and inflammatory.

All of these voices s،w a complete disconnect from readers and viewers w، do not want advocacy journalism and no longer trust what they are reading in the media. Yet, these calls remain personally popular for writers and editors alike. It is reminiscent of ،w executives at companies like Disney have pursued woke policies to the detriment of their share،lders and the alienation of many of their customers. The same is true for the push for censor،p on social media despite the clear preference of users for more free s،ch and fewer s،ch controls.

As with ،nds like BudLight, the abandonment of actual consumers will not deter media executive in pu،ng this “new journalism.” As Downie explained “objectivity” is “keeping them from pursuing truth in their work.” So they will do their jobs even when viewers and readers no longer are interested in their work. While this type of vanity press can count on subsidies from billionaires like Jeff Bezos and George Soros, the public may balk at a media that is increasingly writing for itself.