Advocacy journalism

I wrote yesterday about R.R. Reno’s talk and about the interplay between American and Catholic life. Something else that Reno touched on was his role at First Things as an advocacy journalist.

What is an advocacy journalism? It is when journalists “intentionally and transparently adopt a non-objective viewpoint” because they believe that “the public interest is better served by a diversity of media outlets with a variety of transparent points of view” rather than by the problematic concept of journalistic objectivity.

I believe that, at least in our present time, advocacy journalism is definitely the best way the fourth estate can serve the public interest. Here’s why Reno think so:

“We have to investigate. We have to analyze. We have to understand. These are usually important things, but I’ve come to realize that it’s more precious to love than it is to know. And I think that separates us from what I fear is a loveless desire to know that is characteristic of our secular culture more broadly and perhaps even the very best of secular journalism.”

If secular or mainstream journalism still embraces the principle of objectivity. In practice, it’s just feigned impartiality. I think the best descriptor for the principle of objectivity in journalism is nonpartisan journalism. But “Disinterestedness” is actually one of the synonyms for that notion of objectivity. That’s a terrible way to think about the role you’re playing in distilling complexity and imparting meaning to the public.

Why does Reno say it’s more precious to love than it is to know? Because an advocacy journalist acknowledges that it’s impossible to stand apart from what you’re reporting. Because an advocacy journalist embraces the essential role of reporting, which is to assist with the conservation, maintenance, and development of civic life in all its many expressions.

The ethereal notion of objectivity be damned. Help us build a better culture. Pursue excellence by developing a love affair with a subject intimately enough to want to see it get better, and then help it do so by sharing its story with the rest of us who can help make it happen.

A better class of advocacy journalists should have the effect of elevating a better class of nonpartisan journalists.