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Remaking Media in the Pursuit of Justice

Do media outlets have a role to play in the movement for a better world?

As editors of Truthout, an independent online news site, we believe that good journalism plays a role in the pursuit of justice.

The forms of injustice that we are up against — mass incarceration, white supremacy, widening economic inequality, and a militarized form of global capitalism that disproportionately affects people of color and women worldwide — all rely on silence and erasure.

Part of what journalists can do to counter these systems of injustice is to expose specific instances of injustice and tell stories of resistance, providing a platform for people who are experiencing and organizing against oppression to tell their stories. When we do this, we transform journalism into a form of justice through storytelling.

Rethinking journalism requires questioning pillars of conventional journalism, such as the idea that a journalist can be “objective.” We question whether it is possible to construct a narrative without unconsciously shaping a story through one’s “common sense” about whom to interview, what order to tell the story in, what context should be deemed necessary for inclusion and more. Fantasies of objectivity erode journalists’ ability to think critically about how their own values, experiences, and social location shape their work.

Instead of prioritizing the principle of objectivity, we anchor our work in principles of accuracy, transparency, and independence from the influence of corporate and political forces. Within this frame, activists can write op-eds about the struggles they are embedded in, so long as they are explicit about their relation to the material they’re writing about. Reporters can structure their stories to spark action by reporting not only on instances of injustice, but also on how different groups are resisting.

In telling the stories of particular campaigns and acts of resistance, we aim to share the larger narratives of movements, not only helping to amplify activist efforts as they happen, but also building a critical historical record of movements from Occupy to Black Lives Matter, to Idle No More, to the fights against the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. By lifting up the voices of activists struggling against powerful forces — through both our articles and our active social media presence — we are both fueling current movements and providing key documentation upon which future movements will be able to draw.

We make no bones about the fact that our goal is to reveal systemic injustice and provide a platform for transformative ideas. In addition to amplifying and fueling activist movements, we seek to remove ourselves from the equation of injustice — an equation in which media groups have often served as an arm of a violent power structure.

Just one example: Until recently, the mass media rarely mentioned the sharp rise in incarceration between the 1970s and the present day. Moreover, by drawing on interviews with the police, rather than on interviews with incarcerated people and their families, mainstream reports on crime have often portrayed criminalized people as scary and evil, thus backing the establishment’s justifications for locking people up.

This has occurred because getting friendly with the police and developing them as sources has long been one of mainstream reporters’ jobs. And this has occurred because so many mainstream media outlets are run by people who have not personally experienced the violent effects of mass incarceration within their immediate communities.

So, it has mostly fallen to a small number of independent media outlets to tell the truth about prisons and track down the voices that aren’t being heard. This means asking reporters to interview incarcerated people themselves and working with imprisoned people to write their own stories. Highlighting the voices, ideas, and analyses of people facing oppression serves as a central guideline in our work at Truthout.

Openly seeking justice, we don’t call ourselves “fair and balanced.” We know that “balanced” is a false goal, because society is not balanced. We don’t have an interest in pitting injustice against justice. We want to strengthen all struggles for justice.

This frees us from having to represent the status quo and gives us the opportunity to start new transformative conversations.

We are creating methods along with creating content. Our orientation toward transformation informs our editorial practice at every level, affecting the stories that we deem “newsworthy,” the guidance we give to authors, and even the style guide used by our copy-editor, which asks that Truthout’s authors find new metaphors that do not equate society-damaging ignorance with “blindness,” “deafness,” or “insanity” (metaphors that further stigmatize people with disabilities and mental illness, whose devaluation arises from the same impulses at the heart of capitalism and white supremacy).

Although we do not generally articulate Truthout’s orientation toward transformation through the specific discourse of “universalizing resistance” used in this book — in part due to a concern over the way in which calls for more “universal” struggles have sometimes been used by white men on the Left to de-legitimize efforts to fight racism and sexism alongside capitalist exploitation — we can see how many elements of our work are resonant with the universalizing framework as it is defined here.

Earlier in this book, Charles Derber writes that a core aspect of universalizing resistance is the insight that solving any inequality requires dealing with all of them.

We strive to put this insight into practice by commissioning stories that concretely show how different forms of oppression intersect, revealing the interconnections between struggles that are too often presented as existing in disconnected “silos.” We hope that our media work will help expose connections between climate change, militarism, capitalism, white supremacy, colonial violence, and patriarchy globally.

For example, Truthout staff reporter Dahr Jamail has consistently revealed the intersection of US military policy and environmental destruction. Jamail has exposed plans by the US Navy to conduct vast war games over large stretches of public and private lands, including national parks. He has documented how the Navy has taken advantage of climate change to expand operations in the Gulf of Alaska and has simultaneously fueled climate change with its polluting, hazardous practices. These interconnections are critical to name and analyze.

In the wake of the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, we commissioned a piece by Laleh Khalili titled “After Brexit: Reckoning with Britain’s Racism and Xenophobia” that documented how class politics were articulated through a politics of race in the lead-up to the Brexit vote, showing the interlocking effects of austerity, privatization, and xenophobia.

And in Truthout’s first print anthology, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? Police Violence and Resistance in the United States, we featured an article by Andrea Ritchie that discusses how centering women’s and trans people’s experiences will require movements against police violence to expand their analysis of state violence “to include sexual assault by the police, violence against pregnant and parenting women, policing of prostitution, deadly responses to domestic violence, and the routine violence and violation of police interactions with transgender and gender-nonconforming people.”

By commissioning these sorts of articles — articles that explicitly focus on interlocking forms of oppression — we seek to connect the dots and show readers why solving any inequality requires dealing with all of them.

Meanwhile, as Derber also proposes, we don’t discount the value of “single-issue” activism. We hope that when we present articles with a more single-issue focus, they will function like tiles in a mosaic, working in concert to present a larger picture of the many sources of injustice that exist, as well as the varied ways in which people are organizing against them.

The consciousness-awakening power of single-issue organizing is apparent in the inspiring stories that Alexis Bonogofsky has written for Truthout about the unusual coalitions that have emerged in local fights against extractive corporations. For example, Bonogofsky tells the story of how ranchers, members of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Amish farmers, environmentalists, and other residents of Southeast Montana organized to prevent Arch Coal from extracting billions of tons of coal from the area. She writes:

In the beginning, there were a number of separate communities who all, for their own reasons, wanted to stop this project…. Six years of slow and steady relationship building created a powerful bloc of community members from all different backgrounds and political persuasions, united in opposition against the mine and railroad.

Reports like these are a compelling example of why so-called single-issue activism can be a powerful starting point. Even if the groups that come together around a particular issue don’t have a shared analysis of intersecting oppressions going in, these sorts of campaigns can raise awareness of the intersecting issues and build relationships that lay the groundwork for future solidarity.

Moreover, placing articles on “single-issue” campaigns side by side can start to generate an awareness of transnational resonances and linkages, as well as the connective tissue between resistance movements. At Truthout, while Alexis Bonogofsky was reporting on how residents in Kunkletown, Pennsylvania, successfully organized to prevent Nestlé from bottling their community’s water and selling it for a massive profit, Renata Bessi and Santiago Navarro F. were reporting on indigenous communities in Brazil who have alleged that, in an effort to make way for new development projects by transnational corporations (including Nestlé), the Brazilian government has been taking over their ancestral lands and hiring hitmen to murder the indigenous residents of those lands.

Part of practicing transformative journalism — journalism in the service of justice — is recognizing that no one piece can stand alone as truly “universal.” We hope that our continual efforts to lift up the work of resistance movements, highlighting both their intersections and their particularities, will bring these movements to a wider audience. We seek to interrupt the usual passivity of news consumption, provoking readers to think about their own complicity in systems of oppression — and awakening them to how they might engage with movements themselves.

We aim to be a force for the amplification of resistance, a spark for conversation and action, a bullhorn for revealing injustice, and a vessel for powerful new ideas, working alongside movements in the pursuit of a just world.

A critical message, before you scroll away

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