The question of whether journalism and activism should be separated completely is a difficult and complicated problem to answer. First, certain distinctions must be made between the two “isms.”
Some journalists define them as completely separate entities. “If one cannot or will not write an article that goes against one’s cause, then one is not a journalist and does not deserve to be treated like one,” Richard Engel explained.
But, in my opinion, that is not true. Journalism fits into the new system of information distribution but it isn’t the sole source as it once was. People who provide news, in whatever way, be in social media, blogs, or the daily newspaper, must be covered by some sort of protection. As Joel Simon wrote in “What’s the Difference Between Activism and Journalism?”, “inviting governments to differentiate journalists from non-journalists would
set a dangerous precedent.
A perfect example of the blurred lines between activist and journalist falls with the New York Times and Alexa O’Brien.
I found out as much last week when an article I wrote with a colleague about WikiLeaks called Alexa O’Brien an “activist.”
Ms. O’Brien is certainly that. She played a crucial role in the digital outreach of Occupy Wall Street, was involved with the U.S. Day of Rage rally and began covering the Bradley Manning trial partly to protest the lack of information and transparency in the case.
But she also describes herself as an independent journalist, and for that matter, so have I in a previous column. She asked for (and received) a correction in The New York Times, pointing out that I had cited her work in my column.
“You are reading my journalistic work, using my journalistic work, capitalizing off my journalistic work, and linking to my journalistic work about the largest criminal investigation ever into a publisher and its source,” she wrote from Fort Meade, Md., where she has been comprehensively transcribing the Manning trial.
In other words, if I believed she was executing a political agenda rather than a journalistic one, why was I referencing her work?
I truly believe activist can be contributors to the news. Do I think that that necessarily makes them journalists, with a clear guidelines of ethics and style rules? No. But that does not make them less important in the news cycle.
Born into Brothels provides an obvious asset to the news. It educates and informs an audience about a human rights violation, something that a “traditional” journalist does every day, but inserts a tone of activism, once again blurring the lines. But, it’s value as a piece of journalism is not diminished but rather augmented by the personal connection between the journalist and her subjects.
Additionally, activist Rami Abdul Rahman, runs an information service called the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights from his two-bedroom house in Coventry, England. His content provides some of the most integral information about the goings on in Syria. He is an activist and a vital part of news distribution, and should be given rights as such.
There is a distinction in what each “ist” does for disseminating news but the protection and value of what they do is fairly equal.