Advocacy journalism is a genre of journalism that, unlike propaganda, is fact-based, but supports a specific point of view on an issue.

Advocacy journalists might be expected to focus on stories dealing with corporate business practices, government policies, political corruption, and social issues. It is arguable that advocacy journalists serve the public interest in a way similar to muckrakers or whistle-blowers. Most advocacy journalists reject the supposed objectivity of the mainstream press as a practical impossibility, and some others take the position that the economic censorship exerted by corporate sponsors is no different than political censorship.

A hypothetical of advocacy journalism

  • In Anytown, USA, there is public conflict regarding building a large power plant. A local publisher opposed to the plant presents a five-part series accenting probable negative consequences the construction of the power plant would have on the town. The news outlet reports on questionable activities or policies of the builder, conflicts of interest between the builder and local politicians, and negative environmental effects, but downplays anticipated benefits of the plant. The advocacy media outlets give coverage to local demonstrations and town meetings, but avoid interviewing credible supporters. In short, the advocacy news media outlets present selected facts in a compelling, well-researched manner, but avoid presenting credible opposition data.

Traditionally, advocacy and criticism are restricted to editorial and op-ed pages: a fire wall exists between the editorial section and the newsroom. The Wall Street Journal, for example, has a policy of strict separation between the news desk and the editorial board; most major print and electronic news outlets do as well. In contrast, advocacy journalism takes a position on the issues of the day, and one is likely to observe subtle or obvious editorializing in reports. A television news presenter's facial expressions, a radio broadcaster's tone of voice, and the adjectives selected by print journalists, will indicate a discernable opinion regarding what is being reported.

Advocacy journalism is practiced by alternative media and special interest publications and programs, but might also apply to a single article in an otherwise-neutral publication, such as political stories in Rolling Stone; there are also "advocacy journals", or "alternative publications", which are marketed to target groups based on their interests or biases, for example:

  • Print media: The Spotlight, The Nation, National Review, Mother Jones, The New Republic, The Economist, The Weekly Standard, L'Humanité, Libération, Charlie Hebdo, Le Canard Enchaîné.
  • Electronic media: Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, Rush Limbaugh.

Advocacy journalism and U.S. media bias[]

Related articles: Journalism ethics and standards, Media bias, Public relations

In the United States, the practice of advocacy journalism by the mainstream domestic media outlets has raised questions relating to the possibibility of systemic media bias in place of traditional reportage. In 2005, for instance, the board of PBS debated advocacy journalism with regard to its programs, and subsequently reduced time and funding for the left-wing program Now with Bill Moyers, and expanded a show hosted by right-wing host Tucker Carlson. The Rathergate scandal at CBS news, which resulted in the resignantion of Dan Rather, serves as an example of advocacy journalism with identifiable media bias.

In the United States, complex national and global issues are often covered with the use of simple, key terms (examples: War on Terrorism, Terri Schiavo, Liberals, Conservatives, Neo-Cons, Weapons of mass destruction, Plame affair, Iran-Contra Affair, Watergate). These reports are often dismissed as advocacy journalism by those under investigation with the intent of discrediting the news report as biased, casting doubt on the integrity of the reporter or the news media outlet from which the report was issued. In these instances, advocacy journalism can cast doubt on the truth of the story in question, and made it more difficult for the average consumer to establish the facts of the matter under discussion.

In some instances, media outlets may employ political figures as part of their staff. If the media outlet tends to draw from one political viewpoint to the exclusion of others, this would serve as an example of advocacy journalism. This practice should not be confused with paid-for political advertisement, or public awareness campaigns featuring political figures. Advocacy journalism presents a suggestion of fairness and neutrality while actually following an agenda. An example of this is the Armstrong Williams' scandal, in which a broadcaster was paid by the Bush administration to support the No Child Left Behind education plan.

The U.S. government has also made use of video news releases in domestic propaganda campaigns. In 2004 and 2005, Jeff Gannon was given access to the Whitehouse press corps with the intent that he ask questions crafted to allow the White House spokesperson (then Scott McClellan) and the president to give favorable answers which were understood to be the answer to be used by media outlets advocating the White House's overall public relations plan. These are examples of advocacy journalism masquerading as objective reportage.

Perspectives from advocacy journalists[]

One writer for the alternative journalism group, the Independent Media Center, writes the following in a call to action:

Classic tenets of journalism call for objectivity and neutrality. These are antiquated principles no longer universally observed.... We must absolutely not feel bound by them. If we are ever to create meaningful change, advocacy journalism will be the single most crucial element to enable the necessary organizing. It is therefore very important that we learn how to be successful advocacy journalists. For many, this will require a different way of identifying and pursuing goals.1

In an April 2000 address to the Canadian Association of Journalists, Sue Careless gave the following commentary and advice to advocacy journalists, which seeks to establish a common view of what journalistic standards the genre should follow.2

  • Acknowledge your perspective up front.
  • Be truthful, accurate, and credible. Don't spread propaganda, don't take quotes or facts out of context, "don't fabricate or falsify", and "don't fudge or suppress vital facts or present half-truths"
  • Don't give your opponents equal time, but don't ignore them, either.
  • Explore arguments that challenge your perspective, and report embarrassing facts that support the opposition. Ask critical questions of people who agree with you.
  • Avoid slogans, ranting, and polemics. Instead, "articulate complex issues clearly and carefully."
  • Be fair and thorough.
  • Make use of neutral sources to establish facts.

Sue Careless also criticized the mainstream media for unbalanced and politically biased coverage, for economic conflicts of interest, and for neglecting certain public causes. She said that alternative publications have advantages in independence, focus, and access, which make them more effective public-interest advocates than the mainstream media.


The Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP, was founded in 1910. It describes itself as inheriting the tradition of advocacy journalism from Freedom's Journal, [1], which began in 1827 as "the first African-American owned and operated newspaper published in the United States."[2]

Muckrakers are often claimed as the professional ancestors of modern advocacy journalists; for example: Nellie Bly, Ida M. Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, George Seldes, and I.F. Stone.

French newspapers Libération, Charlie Hebdo, Le Canard Enchaîné and L'Humanité all recuse what they consider pseudo-objective journalism for a purposeful explicited political stance on events. They oppose Le Monde neutral style, which doesn't impede it, according to those critics, from dissimulating various events or from abstaining to speak about certain subjects. On the other side, a newspaper like Le Figaro clearly assumes its conservative stance and pool of readers.


Further information: Objectivity (journalism) and Objectivity (philosophy)

Advocacy journalists may reject the principle of objectivity in their work for several reasons.

Many believe that there is no such thing as objective reporting, that there will always be some form of implicit bias, whether political, personal, or metaphysical, whether intentional or subconscious. This is not necessarily a rejection of the existence of an objective reality, merely a statement about our inability to report on it in a value-free fashion. This may sound like a radical idea, but many mainstream journalists accept the philosophical idea that pure "objectivity" is impossible, but still seek to minimize bias in their work. Other journalistic standards, such as balance, and neutrality, may be used to describe a more practical kind of "objectivity".

"Alternative" critics often charge that the mainstream's media claims of being "bias free" are harmful because they paper over inevitable (often subconscious) biases. They also argue that media sources claiming to be free of bias often advance certain political ideas which are disguised in a so-called "objective" viewpoint. These critics contend that the mainstream media reinforce majority-held ideas, marginalizing dissent and retarding political and cultural discourse.

The proposed solution is to make biases explicit, with the intention of promoting transparency and self-awareness that better serves the audience. Advocacy journalists often assume that their audiences will share their biases (especially in politically charged alternative media), or will at least be conscious of them while evaluating what are supposed to be well-researched and persuasive arguments.

Some who believe that objective (or balanced, neutral, etc.) reporting is possible, or that it is a laudable goal, do not find that striving for objectivity is always an appropriate goal, perhaps depending on the publication and the purpose at hand. For example, it might be argued that when attempting to expose a waste, corruption, or abuse, a neutral position would "get in the way" of the exposition, and a "bias" against this kind of criminal activity would be quite acceptable to the intended audience.

Many advocacy journalists claim that they can reject objectivity while holding on to the goals of fairness and accuracy, and claim that corporate journalists often lack both.

Investigative reporting[]

In some instances, advocacy journalism is the same as investigative journalism and muckraking, where these serve the public interest and the public's right to know. Investigative reports often focus on criminal or unethical activity, or aim to advance a generally accepted public interest, such as government accountability or alleviation of human suffering. It might be argued that the journalist is assuming a point of view that public action is warranted to change the situation being described. The most famous example of this was Edward R. Murrow's "See It Now" series of reports on Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

Criticism of advocacy journalism[]

Professional journalists and members of the public critical of the term assert that with the sacrifice of a measure of journalist objectivity you have bad journalism: reporting that does not serve the public interest. This is essentially editorializing or sensationalizing on the news pages or during electronic news media presentations. The editorializing is not announced but only advocated by the intrinsic structure of the report.

The term might also indicate a serious breach of journalistic canons and standards, such as rumor mongering, yellow journalism, sensationalism or other ethically flawed reportage — for example, the 2004 revelations created by a press leak in the Plame affair, where a leak was used to help an office holder's political position.

Some fear the activity of advocacy journalists will be harmful to the reputation of the mainstream press as an objective, reliable source of information. Another concern is that undiscriminating readers will accept the facts and opinions advanced in advocacy pieces as if they were objective and representative, becoming unknowingly and perhaps dangerously misinformed as a result.

Advocacy journalists vary in their response to these criticisms. Some believe that mainstream and alternative outlets serve different purposes, and sometimes different audiences entirely, and that the difference is readily apparent to the public. Some believe that the mainstream press is not an objective and reliable source of information, and so doesn't deserve the reputation it seeks to maintain.

External links[]



  • "The Revolution in Journalism with an Emphasis on the 1960's and 1970's" by Belinda Carberry. [3] Brief history of alternative journalistic forms, including references for further reading. Designed for use by high school teachers. From the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.
  • "Cornel West: The Uses of Advocacy Journalism". The Tavis Smiley Show, 15 Dec 2004. "Commentator Cornel West and NPR's Tavis Smiley discuss the notion of advocacy journalism in America, in the tradition of W.E.B. Dubois, I. F. Stone and Ida B. Wells." [4] RealAudio or Windows Media audio program.
  • "A Brief History of American Alternative Journalism in the Twentieth Century." By Randolph T. Holhut. [5]

Criticism of advocacy journalism[]

  • "Critical Scan Reveals that Advocacy Journalism is Rampant" by Charles W. Moore. The New Brunswick Telegraph Journal 2004.06.29 [6]. This article criticizes the mainstream Canadian press for engaging in advocacy journalism on behalf of liberal causes.
  • "The Sorry State of American Journalism" by Dennis Campbell. October 7, 2003. [7] Criticizes "advocacy journalism" of all political stripes as "opinion disguised as news" and "propagandizing". Identifies advocacy journalism as a post-Watergate phenomenon.


  1. "Advocacy Journalism, the Least You Can Do, and the No Confidence Movement." Dave Berman, 29 Jun 2004. Independent Media Center. [8]
  2. "Advocacy Journalism" by Sue Careless. The Interim, May 2000. [9] Rules and advice for advocacy journalists.

Credit and categories[]

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