Journalism, as with most professions has two sides. You have one, which is taught in the schools and often romanticized by most of those who have often lived away from the field – the objective journalist. And the more infamous, yet formed by the interaction with the people on the ground and other stakeholders the journalist often makes stories of – the biased journalist.
Often times, the difference between the two goes unnoticed, especially if the news stories the journalist produces, suits the prevailing public mood. A journalist is often times denounced only when his work goes against the grain of public opinion. But how different really is one from the other? How can one tell when one is merely reporting or when one is already promoting something? What is the difference between the documentor and the instigator?
A documentor is a person often tasked to write about or record the events which transpire in a particular phenomenon. The documentor takes notes on everything that happens, regardless of who is doing what, or what is doing what. He jots down everything, whild his photographer or cameraman records everything. And he does not distinguish right from wrong nor good from bad. He just records everything.
An instigator on the other hand makes stories on toppics which the journalist hold dear to his or her heart. If one was a student leader in his university years and he is assigned to cover the education sector, there is the tendency that he will be putting more weight on the statements from the students in stories of tuition feee increases, rather than those words which come from the school administrators. If the journo came from a farming family, then he is most probable to take the side of farmers rather than the landlord in cases of agrarian reform.
The instigator takes a partcular bias towards one side of the argument in an issue. And his story is not merely a reportage of an event, about a person, or on a phenomenon. Rather it also serves to attract attention and as a call to action. Usually this type of journo takes the side of disadvantaged, the exploited, and the victim. His story would then focus more on the experience of the underdog rather than the justification of the overlord. And so you don’t really have a journalist according to the supposed objective as defined in the classroom.
But while the definitions and ideals of journalism are very much clear in the halls of the educational institutions and the confines of the houses of those who tend to criticize the media, the same catchphrases and punch lines in the profession get a different meaning in the field.
Most journalists often start off as individuals dreaming of writing about the truth. Whether is be the truth about an event, a person, or a place, it does not matter, so long as the person satisfies himself or herself with reporting the “truth.” Often times, this reportage, made in a void beyond the social and political currents, is mainly composed of facts and figures and reported as much as possible, in the most detached manner. It is objective.
When the same journalist writes a story about say, the arrest of a group of individuals, and he bases his story on the police report; the statement from the neighbors and family of the suspect; the statement from the complainant; and the statement of the suspect, his story is viewed as objective since it covered the primary stakesholders that are involved in the event.
The story though takes a different turn when the journalist would unitentionally (or intentionally) highlight one side of the argument over the other. When the reporter gives more exposure and quotes from the side of the suspect, he is viewed as biased. When he also quotes more from the side of the victim, he is also called biased. The mere added exposure of facts from either side, gives the other side the impression that the journalist is favoring one side of the argument. And the report then is called unbalanced.
When one covers a demolition case from the confines of the court, he has the tendency to side with the owner of the land since the informal settlers are deemed as violators of a property legally owned by an individual who used his hard-earned money to buy the land.
But when the same reporter is sent to cover the actual demolition, and he witnesses the destruction of house, the wailing informal settlers, and the violence of the demolition team against the settlers, he would later feel more for the informal settlers than the owner of the land. Such is the difference being on the field makes.
It is difficult to choose if one should remain objective or biased. It is all the more a burden to decide whether one should remain a documentor or an instigator. Difficult because the theories learned in class and the experience in the field come into conflict. A burden because the weight of principles of objectivity go against the empathy felt by the journo for people on the ground.
The border between these two shades of journalism is actually porous. So porous that journalists often cross from one side to the other and vice-versa. And this is why it is difficult to tell whether one is mere reporting facts or already being a propagandist.
Oftentimes, the red flag is only hoisted when the a journalist has made stories based plainly on one side of an argument. Then again, I doubt if such stories get past diligent editors. Unless of course, the editor has also chosen a side to root for during his days in the field as a reporter.