The Izzy’s

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Izzy Awards at Ithaca College, where Naomi Klein and David Sirota were honored for their exemplary contributions to independent journalism. Klein was honored for her most recent book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate and Sirota was honored for his series of exposes on corruption within the U.S. pension system.

The Izzy Award was named after I. F. Stone, a muckraking journalist and legendary independent journalist.

As a senior journalism student, it was really exciting to go to the Izzy’s because both Sirota and Klein made comments about journalism that made my career options look a little less bleak. Sirota said, “News is not journalism” and he made the distinction between reporting on a press release and digging for a story. He made an interesting point and I can agree with him not all news is journalism, simply restating something doesn’t make it journalism, it can be news, but that doesn’t make it journalism. He also told the audience that as a journalist you don’t have to “hit a home run every time,” that it is perfectly fine if your articles don’t always make a huge impact or create an important discussion every time. I just really appreciated how Sirota took a moment to recognize that not every story has to be a big scoop.

Klein’s speech had a number of fantastic one liners, and of course I took notes. She discussed the importance of “looking for the dirt behind the shine” and how important it is to make sure your stories are accurate. Klein discussed how journalism is more than just telling a story, its using the facts to start a conversation with the wider public. She joked about the traditional journalistic values like objectivity and how objectivity is used to quiet an argument. “Objectivity mean I object to your activity,” Klein said. I think one of the most important comments Klein made last night was about how she became an independent journalist. She said that her work involved a great deal of digging and a passion for the subject and because main stream media outlets don’t allow journalists to care about the issues, they have to become independents in order to be free to report passionately. That point really resonated with me.

It was great to hear someone speak about journalism as something other than a declining field, so thank you to both Naomi Klein and David Sirota for your dedicated journalism and your inspiring words.


Citizens Breaking News

Citizen journalism is a sticky subject, when you speak to individuals who have studied journalism there is a tendency to have a sense of hostility toward citizen journalists. Citizen journalists are viewed as useful, but also as outsiders because they lack formal training or exposure to the Society of Professional Journalist’s code of ethics. They are private citizens that predominately write online and they tend to get picked on by the mainstream media because they are seen as lesser journalists.

Despite this hostility, citizen journalists are just as capable of breaking big stories as any other journalist. Mayhill Fowler is a citizen journalist that broke two major stories during the 2008 campaign trail for the Huffington Post. She wrote about elitist comments Obama made at a closed event and snagged a fantastic rant from Bill Clinton where Clinton spewed vitriol about a Vanity Fair writer, Todd Purdum. Fowler would not have been able to get either of these stories if she wasn’t a citizen journalist. She was able to get the Obama quote because she was at an event for Obama supporters and was in attendance as a donor to his campaign. She was able to get the Clinton rant on tape because he just assumed she was a Clinton supporter and was being open and conversational with her.

Fowler managed to break these huge stories because she didn’t have major press credentials, because she was seen as a citizen and not as a threatening reporter. She was able to slip in and get the stories because she wasn’t viewed as a professional journalist.

Objectivity Vs. Transparency

Let me begin by making my opinion known – I don’t think a journalist can ever be 100 percent objective when they are reporting on an issue, they can be balanced and they can be transparent, but they cannot be completely objective. (<– Oh look an example of transparency)

As a journalism student I have had it drilled into my head a thousand times over that a good journalist must write objectively. The problem with this is that people have opinions and journalists as people (I know, weird right?) are going to have a certain perspective on whatever they’re reporting on. That’s not to say they can’t craft a balanced story, but presenting all of the arguments in a story is not going to make the article objective. It makes it balanced. I believe that if a story is balanced and the journalist is transparent with their opinions about the issue they are reporting on then their work is acceptable. It’s not realistic to believe in the traditional echo of objectivity in an age where information is so readily accessible.

According to this article, “transparency is the new objectivity” within journalism. This blogger, suggests that with the rise of the Internet and the usage of links to support different claims that the media’s transparency is becoming more important than their objectivity.

David Carr (a fantastic journalist) wrote an article where he argues that the line between a journalist and an activist is blurred. He makes the point that this blurring is acceptable as long as the journalist is transparent, that they make it crystal clear where they stand with the issue they are reporting on.Carr makes the point that as long as the reporting is working to reveal the truth and as long as the truth is brought to light the reporter’s ideology is not as important.

“Journalists are responsible for following the truth wherever it may guide them. Both Ms. Gibson and Mr. Greenwald said that they would quickly follow the Snowden story even if it led to something that questioned his motives or diminished his credibility. But I do think that activism — which is admittedly accompanied by the kind of determination that can prompt discovery — can also impair vision. If an agenda is in play and momentum is at work, cracks may go unexplored.” So what really should be asked here is: can the journalistic activists report the truth even if it negatively impacts their cause?