The activism versus journalism debate

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Publication date : 1 January 2019

The activism versus journalism debate

Stephanie McCrummen said being an activist the work of a journalist may get hampered as an activist rarely thinks in an objective manner

Media: The Independent

Original URL: The activism versus journalism debate

E-paper URL: The activism versus journalism debate

Recently The Independent interviewed Pulitzer prize-winning The Washington Post journalist Stephanie McCrummen at the Hong Kong Baptist University where he came to join a workshop. She answered some questions about activism and journalism. She answered–Are activism and journalism mutually exclusive (the existence of each alternative excludes the other)? Is journalism a form of activism? Is there any dichotomy between the two?

Stephanie McCrummen thinks that there is a thin dividing line between journalism and activism. “There can be a close relation between journalism and activism. However, there is a clear distinction between the two. I do not think it is my job to advocate for any position. Because, it is a big debate. Being an activist for a certain position is not the proper role for a journalist,” Stephanie said.

Stephanie said being an activist the work of a journalist may hamper as activist cannot think from impartial point of view.  She said, “If we want something to be true or want a certain outcome, then it starts to cloud your judgment or it starts to affect the way you see things.”

Stephanie McCrummen is a national enterprise reporter covering an array of subjects for The Washington Post. In 2018 she won Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. Previously, she was the paper’s East Africa bureau chief based in Nairobi. She has also reported from Egypt, Iraq and Mexico, among other places. She won many prizes including 2018 Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting for coverage of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, 2018 George Polk Award for Political Reporting for coverage of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, 2016 Best American Newspaper Narratives and 2015 Erikson Prize for Excellence in Mental Health Reporting.

“I think it is important to maintain the mentality of a journalist. Because when you start thinking like an activist, then you start taking position. The best thing we can do being a journalist is to think clearly, see things clearly and find out the truth,” Stephanie said.

About the criticism that journalists are facing and the present attempts of different state governments to present the journalists as the ‘enemy of the people’, she said referring the quote of Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post said, “We are not in the war, we are in the job.”

She said that the journalist checking the fact, revealing the truth, if something happened that is the result of the revealing the truth, adding “I think we have to do more, we have to explain more to people why they trust us, the way to do explaining how careful we are, how we are doing our job.”

“We can stand ourselves, we can say no we are not enemy of the people; actually we are the friend of the public. We keep providing information to the public, we can take up ourselves,” added Stephanie McCrummen.

She said we shout not give the change to the people treating as “biased.”

“It is a fine line. Our work may lead to change. That is true and often does.  We are not pushing for a change; we are pushing to explore the reality. Certainly, we write about the problems and people may have reactions. People may want to change the system but we have to focus on our mind seeing things clearly. There may be close relationship between journalism and activism, they are related but they are separate,” she added.

“We can activist for the profession, I do think so, I don’t have problem with that, I don’t have problem with saying journalist matter, here why, here how our do job.”

Some say that journalism is a means-driven profession while activism is ends-centric. Activism pursues a particular political objective and desired outcome. According to Oxford Dictionary, activism is the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.

Stephanie McCrummen, also said about some tools to write rich readers informative news with fact checking.

She said the journalists have to spend much time for the story. The more a reporter spends time, the more he/she realize about the story.

When you are doing this kind of journalism, you are absorbing everything, I had so many notes, note of the dialogue, the details of everything, because you don’t really know what is going to be important at the that moment.

She said after collecting all the information then she transcribed those in her computer and narrowed down it for the story.   “Starting reporting, you start to see pattern, start to realize what is important, what you have seen. The more you spend time, the more you realize the story. Do that every day all day. So, nothing happened, except something what might happen,” she


“I look into my materials and try to sketch out to write the starting point of the story and ending and identify the some tensions. You have to induce tensions to keep reading the readers in the story,” she added.

The writer is the In-Charge, Chittagong Bureau of The Independent


Shamsuddin Illius
Shamsuddin Illius is a print and online media journalist. He has been working in the field (fulltime) of journalism since 2010. He is very much passionate about journalism since his early age. Currently he is the Bureau Chief-Chittagong at The Business Standard.

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