In a year marked by the disruption of every kind, New York Festivals will implement additional categories for social justice across all genres and platforms when the 2021 Radio Awards opens this fall. These categories spotlight storytellers who are using all of their creativity to engage with their listeners on this critical topic.
In this special edition of Content POV, Michael Freedman, President of the National Press Club, our 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, shares insights and observations from the perspective of journalists, journalism, and social justice reporting.
NYF: What is the personal commitment needed for journalists to cover social justice issues?
Everyone is entitled to and deserves equal justice under the law, yet many cannot afford the cost of being heard. Journalists give voice to the voiceless. This is arguably the most rewarding aspect of the profession and the primary reason many journalists pursue careers in the field. When the empowered ignore the needs of the oppressed, journalists bring their stories to light and often serve as the catalysts for improvement. As President Obama articulated at the recent Democratic National Convention, "A free press isn't the enemy but the way we hold officials accountable."
NYF: How challenging is this type of reporting?
The challenges are significant for journalists covering social justice issues. This type of reporting requires considerable time, effort, energy, thoughtfulness, perseverance, and perhaps most important, gaining the trust of those in need. It is not unusual for the “voiceless” to question the motives of those who seek to help them. These are often very private people, even if their circumstances appear very public. At the other end of the spectrum are public officials who sometimes hide behind bureaucracies to avoid acting on matters considered embarrassing and/or lower priorities. The job of the journalist is to shed light on these issues, often through the painful, personal stories of victims, and to report them with accuracy and fairness. When the mission is accomplished, our society is bettered. And the journalist has accomplished the ultimate goal for all of us – to make a positive difference.
NYF: Could you give some examples of how new technologies have changed social justice reporting?
Social media has proven a valuable tool in expanding public awareness of social justice issues. We now have at our fingertips more information than any generation in the history of the world. And while this also creates an instantaneous opportunity for the mass dissemination of misinformation, it has empowered communities to organize around causes. The most recent example is this summer’s national outcry for racial equality and social justice. The ability of individuals to quickly record and share video and audio has also aided in the search for truth. While manipulation is possible, overwhelming evidence cannot be denied. Finally, the availability of new technology can help close the digital divide and achieve the goal of equalizing educational opportunities for all.
NYF: Does reporting on social justice issues lead to an expanded worldview?
While technology has opened the world to us all, barriers to an expanded worldview are also on the rise. Nowhere is this more evident than in the repression of press freedom. The job of the journalist has become increasingly difficult - and dangerous – around the globe as leaders seek to marginalize those who seek and report the truth. Reporting on social justice issues has never been more important – or more challenging – than now.
NYF: NPC has members all over the world. Could you share your opinion on the potential impact of these new NYF categories?
The National Press Club commends the New York Festivals for its inclusion of ten additional social justice reporting categories. These honors will both bring to wider attention the finest social justice reporting of the past year and encourage more journalists to pursue important and complicated stories so critical to improving our world. The timing is right and the potential impact significant, as America and the world confront unprecedented, converging crises. All efforts to bring social justice issues to public attention cast a ray of light in a dark time. And honoring those journalists who give voice to the voiceless sends important messages to the news organizations who back them, to public officials who must be held accountable, and to the next generation of journalists who will be inspired by this work.