Social justice journalism is directed towards, and intended to provoke, social change. Whether it’s writing about the unfair treatment of Palestinians in the Gaza strip, or writing on the state of the brutally oppressive Burmese regime, this form of journalism is intended to not just inform, but to make a positive difference.
This was the definition given to those who attended the final presentation of the third annual McGill Student Journalism Week on Friday night. The five-day event, hosted by the Daily Publications Society, featured presentations on various contemporary journalistic issues.
The final panel discussion focused on how social justice journalism should be conducted in light of recent events such as the G20 protests, in which ournalists were involved in altercations with police. Many allegations of police arbitrarily arresting journalists and rioters followed the event, with police claiming they are unable to distinguish between the two and journalists claiming that the police are simply unwilling to.
This events surrounding the G20 protests spawned many questions which were addressed at Friday’s event: at what point does the line between activist and journalist become so blurred that the police are unable to determine who is who in the chaos of a riot? When does a journalist’s personal investment in a cause begin to conflict with their duty as a journalist to be objective?
In response to these questions, panel member and independent journalist Amy Miller said, “We’re talking about social justice journalism, you have to identify yourself from within social justice movements.” Miller also disagreed with the need for objectivity in journalistic writing. She made a strong case for having a personal attachment to a cause. For Miller, objectivity itself isn’t necessary, only transparency in your work and a commitment to change.
Miller claims that while covering the G20 Protests she, personally, was detained by police and repeatedly endured threats.
Derek MacCuish, another panel member and former Concordia political science professor, agreed with Miller on the subject of objectivity, though he stressed the importance of fairness in journalistic work. Fairness, to MacCuish, means examining all possible aspects of a story and fairly judging their truth as a basis for objectivity, but not necessarily writing without a slant.
Although the discussion also highlighted some changes that are currently occurring within social justice movements and journalism, the question that remained at the forefront all evening was whether objectivity in social justice journalism is necessary, or even truly feasible.