When journalists take a stand: Taking sides and storytelling

Many people get into journalism hoping to change the world (or was that just a me thing?). It isn’t uncommon for people to become passionate about a topic that they feel is underreported. The journalists face many challenges in getting published, although most do not face the sort of problems Jose Antonio Vargas did today. Vargas, a journalist and activist focused on immigration reform was detained by Border Control today. Vargas, himself, is a well-known undocumented immigrant,and despite fears that this might happen, he was intent on covering the plight of undocumented children on the Texas/Mexico border, an issue that he feels most of America is ignoring.

Because of my job, I monitor a lot of Catholic news sources alongside some more typical news sources and have been reading about the issues on the border quite extensively. I’ve read some powerful pieces that have shaped my personal view of the issue. The Washington Post story “A ‘Band-Aid’ for 800 children”  Eli Saslow was one of the most impactful stories for me. Covering issues like this from a political/ policy oriented view and from a personal view is very important, I think, and very valuable to the national discussion (although a quick look at the comments shows a quick devolution to ignorance, hatred, and the same old political vitriol).

With stories this powerful, I can imagine that it’s difficult to cover them when you’re in the middle of the issue yourself. Vargas was released today on the condition that he would appear for his own immigration hearing. Personal experiences can be very motivating to get you in a story, but, as everyone always warns, they can get in the way. Other people are covering these stories and telling them well, but what does that mean. At the end of the day, is a story just a story? Does it do anything? Vargas obviously is doing much more than just reporting on the issues (mainly in his documentary “Documented” that is high on my must view list). He started his own nonprofit Define American encouraging story telling and discussion about the issue of immigration.

I admire Vargas for what he’s doing, but he’s obviously taken a very public side. Though I think it works for him, would it be ethical for another reporter to use their stories as a call for action. In issues that become so deeply enmeshed in politics like this one, it becomes hard to try to be objective and not call your audience to action. Storytelling is important. Conversation is important. Both of these things can be powerful. Action, however, is most important. I definitely see a trend towards Vargas’s style of journalism, the sort that takes a side and calls to action. Is there a place for that? I hope so, but I also don’t want to see the end of objectivity in the media. It’s a fine line that requires more exploration.


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