Activist Journalists and Journalistic Activists

International Journalism Festival Perugia, 15 – 19 April 2015

Kellie Riordan of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation called for renewed focus on traditional editorial standards in the digital newsroom: accuracy, independence and impartiality. Journalism, in her view, should be about facts. Keeping this in mind, I wonder what she thought of several other sessions at the festival that called for a more activism in journalism.

Now, activism is very much about facts, but it does bend, or possibly even brake, the rules of impartiality. With the Keep it in the Ground project for instance, The Guardian decided to take up active campaigning on the issue of climate change. What does this mean for the journalists involved, and for the publication as a whole? Will they be treated differently when it comes to general reporting, access and interviews by their adversaries in this campaign?

Aron Pilhofer
Aron Pilhofer, Executive Editor Digital The Guardian

Journalism can’t always be activism, but when it is, it’s often done through data driven stories, graphic artist Giulio Frigieri explained. This journalistic genre combines in-depth information with convincing visuals and often with the ability to interact with and explore the data as a reader. All these feats enhance a reader’s engagement with a topic.

Frigieri took part in a discussion session on radical data where journalists and activists came together to talk about the shared methods and different capacities of each. Aron Pilhofer warned activists that, quite often, journalists don’t know how to handle data. When they do however, their storytelling skills and the visual resources of a newsroom will aid the communication of a cause. Conversely, Gabi Sobliye of the Tactical Technology Collective called for more open source visualisation tools like Density Design’s Raw that activists with limited budgets can use.


Kellie Riordan’s speech Editorial Standards for a Digital Age

Aron Pilhofer’s speech It’s Like Launching a 200-year-old startup

Dan Gillmor’s speech Why Journalists should be Activists