Journalist, activist, or both?

From the advent of newspaper journalism, political advocacy has been an important function of media. By the late 19th century a new model for political journalism arose, in which the journalist performed more of an objective role, not taking a particular political stance. This was connected to commercialization of press, which led to a focus on making money from consumers rather than receiving funds from political actors (Hallin & Mancini, 2004).

Throughout the years the role of media changed. What can be seen now is a renewed interest in investigative journalism, with an emphasis on the workings and failures of democracy, laws and inequalities within society, to name but a few examples.

But when do journalism cross the line between reporting and activism? These were questions that were frequently heard when the Correspondent, in response to documentary series ‘Schuldig’ came with a petition to make an end to the so-called ‘debt industry’ in the Netherlands.

Rob Wijnberg, editor-in-chief at the Correspondent, argued that all journalism is activist in nature. Rosan Smits, deputy editor-in-chief at that same publication, even went as far as to state that her goal is to influence politics. Not everyone agrees with this point of view, as many see journalism and activism as separate worlds that should not be woven together.

I myself applaud this development. From what I see, journalism can have a large influence on politics: when something is given media attention, politicians will be more eager to act swiftly. Of course we have to keep in mind that all sides of a story have to be highlighted and not start reporting with only one goal in mind but if proper journalistic work lies at the bottom of a petition like the ‘Schuldvrij’ one, I don’t see the harm.


Hallin, Daniel C. & Mancini, Paolo, “Chapter 2. Comparing Media Systems” & “Chapter 4. Media and Political Systems.” Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2004. Print

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