Joel Simon addresses the impact social media has had on journalism in his article, “What’s the Difference Between Activism and Journalism?” He quotes several journalists who claim that social media has caused lines to blur between activists and journalists because everyday people can now present their experiences for the world to see. Last week we face timed with Morgan Till, a producer for PBS’s NewsHour, who shared experiences that support Simon’s point. Till shared that one of the most significant changes he’s seen in his industry over the past 17 years he has been covering international stories is the heightened danger that journalists now face. One could argue that the blurred line between activists and journalists is one of the main reasons for this problem. As Simon addresses, governments associate activists as being against their cause, therefore, if journalists are mistaken for activists, or “citizen journalists,” they are seen as a threat and their lives could potentially be at risk when covering these foreign territories.
However, not all activists are extreme. An article published by an environmental activist in Hong Kong discusses the harmful impacts the smog has on the people of Hong Kong. The author gives facts and examples to support his case. But I would still not consider him a journalist. The article is very opinionated, and is posted in a blog forum rather than an official website.
In contrast, an article written in the South China Morning Post covers the same topic, but provides a graph showing air quality measurements in Hong Kong over the course of a week, something much more reliable than the opinion of one man.
There will always be value in having your work backed by a professional news organization. The media hold governments to a higher standard and hold their practice to a high standard as well. A citizen journalist’s work is usually not validated unless a larger news outlet has shared it. For this reason, there will always be a difference in activism and journalism.
Citizen journalism is by no means real journalism. It is often times filled with opinions, lacking secondary sources, and written (or if it’s a video) edited sloppily. But when it comes to exposing a violation or several violations of human rights, citizen journalism can sometimes be exactly what the world needs to see in order for people to wake up and do something.
An article written in the Tampa Tribune about human trafficking in Florida covers all the bases of what is considered by journalistic standards to be a “good story.” And it is. The author, Mitchell, includes interviews with a recently released trafficking victim, head of the police force in that county, as well as the head of a nonprofit in the area dedicated to stop human trafficking. Mitchell’s interviews give insight to the good things that are already being done to make progress to stop trafficking, however, her piece isn’t exactly a call-to-action.
A blog post written by the NGO, The Human Trafficking Project, exposes human trafficking occurring in our own state of Texas. Human trafficking can be a difficult thing for a citizen journalist to expose or even recognize because it by nature is such a shadowy industry. As a result, often times NGO’s trying to end human trafficking wind up becoming citizen journalists, which benefits all parties. Their organization gets more credibility and exposure once they have hard evidence and it also creates a bigger impact in getting people involved for their mission.
An article written in The Courier is another example of how citizen journalism exposing human trafficking, especially in an area close to home can get coverage from larger media outlets and create waves for change.
Roy Gutman, correspondent for Newsday, suggests in the article “Journalism, Media, and the Challenge of reporting on Human Rights” that often times war crimes are not reported accurately because “reporters do not know them when they see them” (113).
Bill Kovach supports this opinion and stated in the same article that the media “focus on the drama, not the broader questions” (113).
A striking takeaway from this article is the disconnect between the mainstream media and human rights NGO’s. This article addresses the lack of knowledge on both ends of the issue. Journalists often times do not have a thorough understanding of the extent of human rights violations and therefore cannot even recognize a story even if they see it (114). Conversely, NGO’s oftentimes don’t fully comprehend the extent of the complexity that goes into the stories and messages the media creates (116).
Journalists might not always realize where human rights violations are occurring (116). The Department of Homeland Security states on their website, “Human trafficking is a hidden crime as victims rarely come forward to seek help because of language barriers, fear of the traffickers, and/or fear of law enforcement.” To combat this risk, the site also provides a list of indicators to help people recognize signs of human trafficking. Reading a short list like this is one step journalists should take to further their education about human rights violations.
Once a journalist recognizes and reports an instance of human trafficking, they must right it in such a way that will make it relevant to their audience. Though everyone should take an interest in human rights violations, that is unfortunately not always the case. The “battle for space” in the mainstream media is a challenge journalists face and therefore must be able to present their stories in a way that will get the issue enough coverage to really be heard (116).
While circumstances are not completely ideal, capable journalists can find a way to reach people and evoke action to help combat human rights violations.