This Tuesday and Wednesday, I stepped inside Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre for their Student Media Summit run in conjunction with the National Union of Students (NUS). A jam-packed two-day event, the conference aimed to inspire the next generation of young journalists to campaign for change in their work.
It was something that got me thinking throughout the event. Journalists are supposed to be seen as completely impartial, dedicated to reporting straight-up facts (whether they are actually doing this at the moment is a debate for another day) without bias. How can we campaign in our articles without readers firing accusations of bias at us?
It’s a question I asked Buzzfeed’s Emily Dugan on Tuesday, where her session on Digital Reporting soon descended into a discussion on getting this balance right. It was interesting and gave me food for thought ahead of starting my journalism degree again later this month.
As I write this now, I’m considering the aims we all have when creating content and putting it out there for others to see. On YouTube, it’s about creating a community around my channel and either entertaining or educating them, or both. For this blog, it’s a mixture of the same. But, when it comes to journalism – an industry which holds so much influence thanks to our digital society and its structure – are reporters right to harness this tool to push their own agenda?
I’m not going to answer that in this post, but what all this has reminded me of is a mindset I used to have ahead of my first year of university. Frustrated with the emotion and bias of the right-wing press and having read up on the hypodermic needle theory, I approached my degree with the aim of being a completely impartial journalist once I entered the industry, devoid of all the bias and political viewpoints which the national press currently possesses.
Instead, I remember something one of my lecturers told me during a politics session, which is that whilst newspapers and the media are biased, it’s necessary for a functioning democracy and political debate. Although some people may despise it, the Mail‘s hyperbolic and hateful headlines prompt a discussion about right-wing politics and it’s important that we have those debates in society.
Now, that doesn’t mean that I won’t aim to be impartial, balanced and unbiased in my reporting (of course not, these things are essential), but media bias is something which most journalists appear to admit just… happens, and I’ve come to accept that too.
Anyway, to revert back to journalism for change, I only need to look at my work on The Limping Chicken for an example of this. A Freedom of Information request in January revealed that 200,000 people have signed up to the 999 text service, which when you compare it to the 11 million people with a hearing loss (as Paul Breckell from Action on Hearing Loss mentions in the linked article), is a small amount. As well as informing people about the service, one can hope that it encouraged a few people to sign up.
As well as new contacts and plenty of tips, the Student Media Summit left me thinking for a while about what journalists hope to achieve in their pieces. After all, in a post-truth world, reporters nowadays do more than just share facts…