Advocacy journalism is — or should be — about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comforted. There’s not much call for that in the mainstream media, which performs the same function as government — protecting business interests.
That’s just the nature of the beast. To survive, media outlets have to operate under a business model that requires them to promote a robust economy for the sake of advertising revenue.
And much has been said about editorial independence, the wall between the newsroom and the advertising department. To my employer’s credit, there have been times when articles were published advertiser-be-damned. On the other hand, I’m sure we all pull punches from time to time.
In a previous life, I was involved in advocacy journalism. Until I wrote a story about factory farm workers and how shabbily they were being treated. Ironically, the day that story ran, our publisher pulled the editorial cartoon after the paper had been sent to the printer and replaced it with a note saying it was the last issue. That’s how Columbus Guardian staffers found out they were no longer employed.
I guess there’s not that much difference in the business models after all.
For the past 16 years, I’ve worked in the mainstream media. There hasn’t been much call there for comforting the afflicted or afflicting the comfortable. Except for the time when the city government attempted to add a few loopholes to state laws requiring them to conduct most business in open meetings.
[By the way, your local city council might be using your tax dollars to pay dues to an organization called the Ohio Municipal League. Among other things, this organization coaches them on how to skirt open meeting laws, as was the case here.]
This week, I had the satisfaction of writing an article comforting the afflicted. Not by design. Earlier this year, the surviving members of a local family donated a highly prized insect collection to an organization in Columbus. The extensive collection had been the life work of Thomas E. Thornburg, who donated it to the local high school 74 years ago. It ended up at the county historical society. Unfortunately, there were no documents establishing ownership of the collection, so the historical society was resigned to letting it go.
Caught up in all this were an elderly couple, who had spent many hours helping to preserve the collection — and many joyful hours sharing it with schoolchildren.
The story had a happy ending, just revealed this week. The attached PDF file will explain it.