Should Reporters Advocate?: Exploring the Role of Journalists

To deepen students’ understanding of key themes in the film, ten supplementary readings have been included in the study guide. Readings are organized into four investigations that correspond to specific excerpts and themes in the film. Each investigation includes an overview that frames the readings. Readings are following by a series of connections that can be used to frame discussions and writing assignments.

Investigation Two focuses on ideas presented in chapters 10 to 13 (46:18–1:01:40, approximately 15 minutes). In this clip, we are introduced to Yohanita, a dying Congolese woman who becomes the focus for Nicholas Kristof’s editorial, “A Student, a Teacher and a Glimpse of War” and an excerpt from Brooke Gladstone’s On the Media interview with Kristof in December 2009.

Suggested Activities

One or more of these ideas, in addition to your own, can be used to create a lesson plan relevant to your students.

Viewing

  1. If students are not watching the whole film, you can introduce Reporter by having them watch the two-minute clip Introducing the Film.
  2. To provide context for the readings in this investigation, have students watch chapters 10 to 13 (46:18–1:01:40, approximately 15 minutes). Alternatively, students could view the two-minute clip Kristof’s Thesis. In this clip, Kristof makes clear his desire to use the tools of journalism to fight poverty, and we see how he approaches this challenge./li>

Reading

Writing

Discussing

  1. After reading the On the Media interview in which Brooke Gladstone labels Nicholas Kristof an “advocacy journalist,” students can read “A Student, a Teacher and a Glimpse of War” and highlight any text that they think exemplifies advocacy journalism. Before beginning this activity, make sure students have a working definition for “advocacy,” as well as for “advocacy journalism.”
  2. The materials in this section explore the distinctions between “objective” reporting and advocacy journalism. To help students recognize how news reporters write with different purposes and styles, you might ask students to read several articles and then to place these on a continuum from most objective to least objective. This exercise could begin with students creating a working definition for “objective reporting.” The readings in Investigation Three could be used for this activity, or students could supply the articles themselves by finding stories in newspapers (online or print) and blogs.
  3. Other strategies that can help students comprehend and interpret these texts include:

    Two strategies that can be used to structure discussions about these quotations include big paper: building a silent conversation and gallery walk.

    1. To better understand the differences between “objective” news reporting and advocacy journalism, you can ask students to write two pieces about the same topic: one in the style of objective news reporting and the other in the style of advocacy journalism. After writing these pieces, students can reflect on questions such as: Which piece was more challenging to write? Why? Which article do you think is more engaging? Why? If you could show someone only one of these articles, which would you pick? Why?
    2. Any of the connection questions that follow the articles could be used as prompts for informal writing, such as journaling, or formal writing, such as persuasive papers.

      Any of the connections can be used to stimulate small- or large-group discussion. Some teachers allow students to choose the connections most interesting to them and then create discussion groups accordingly.

    3. The overview and the readings contain many quotations that can be used to stimulate discussion. You could ask students to select a quotation that stands out to them or you can identify provocative quotations, including:

      • You know, we all know that at some point people tend to get numbed and tune out, but one of the things that I found fascinating was the number at which we tend to tune out. It’s not a million, it’s not a thousand, it’s not even a hundred—it’s two.
      • That is one of the great perks of journalism, that there are a lot of problems in the world and that we carry a spotlight. What I want to do is shine my light to illuminate that problem, but I don't want to tinker with the evidence. I just want to galvanize people by showing them what is out there.
      • Instead of spending a few hundred dollars trying to save Yohanita, who might die anyway, we could spend that money buying vaccines or mosquito nets to save a far larger number of children in other villages. And yet—how can you walk away from a human being who will surely die if you do so?
      • There can be negative consequences to advocacy journalism, like any form of journalism, when it is not done responsibly.… Becoming involved with a cause blurs the lines of a journalist’s duties and responsibilities. The public might have a difficult time accepting and trusting that journalists are both promoters and truth-tellers. And there are many ways that a journalist can abuse his or her power if he or she feels that the ends justify the means.
      • All reporters use a framework of analysis to understand the world and report on it. But reporting containing open references to underlying political assumptions and conclusions seems to engage in advocacy, while the more conventional approach appears neutral.… Accounts of the world, including journalistic ones, must begin from some assumptions about the way the world works. None is neutral.
      • Objectivity is seeing the world as it is, not how you wish it were. The barometer or SPAR teaching strategies can be used to discuss the role of the journalist. One side can represent the “objective news reporting” position: Journalists should provide objective information for the purpose of educating readers about what is happening in the world. The other side can represent the “advocacy journalist” position: Journalists should provide the public with accurate information for the purpose of galvanizing readers to take action on issues that affect people around the world.

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