Defining Embedded Journalism

One of my primary goals right now is to define embedded journalism and what differs it from other types of (both mainstream and independent) journalism. My goal is to develop an understanding of what embedded journalists are, what the goals of embedded journalism is, and what the necessity of embedded journalism is. In tomorrow’s blog post, I’ll discuss what embedded journalists do and how they do it. This justice-based journalism philosophy is a work in progress and requires much critique and a lot more writing before I can stand on a firm definition.

To begin, embedded journalists are journalists. They are trained to have both an understanding of the necessary ins-and-outs of different forms of journalism. Similarly, they have been trained to understand how social movements develop and the reasons why social movements develop. This then provides context to their journalism. Embedded journalists act on the edge of social movements with a keen eye looking in to the social movement and an eye on the world around that social movement. Embedded journalists can be allies to social movements. They do not have to be. They do not have to agree with the decisions made in social movements, nor every aspect of it. Their news journalism differs in that their reporting is justice-framed. Justice-framed journalism is framed by both the unique understanding of how social movements form and why, the communities involved in social movements, and the directions in which social movements form. Journalism ethics are abided by. Embedded journalism is typically done best when a journalist has the opportunity and the capacity to stay within a social movement for extended periods of time.

Embedded journalism recognizes the myth of neutrality. Unbiased reporting assumes that all “knowledge” has validity. In the case of embedded journalists, the journalist focuses on the knowledge shared within and by social movements. This does not mean they or the audience or a source cannot disagree. They can. But the basic assumption of embedded journalism is such: social movements exist for valid reasons; similarly, systemic oppression exists; social movements are a reaction to systemic and lived oppression; embedded journalism shares the stories that exist within social movements as a means to educate social movement actors, educate audiences, and bring clarity (and whatever needed context) to the work for justice. This is much like how a broadcast journalist might cover a war or tragic event, but specific to social movements.

When I envisioned embedded journalism, it was because I was trying to find my way through the journalism world. And I have come to see that this type of journalism has the capacity to be integral to how we learn, digest, analyze, and build social movements. I also believe that embedded journalism provides a fantastic entry point for young journalists, primarily from low-income communities of color, who do not want to go the way of cause-marketing, community organizing, or social movement support structures. In fact, I would say that embedded journalism has the capacity to be an incredibly powerful and valid form of social and civic engagement. With that said, I really want to make sure it’s something that participant journalists are treated fairly in. That they learn the skills they need to be paid fair wages. That they’re not expected to be full-time volunteer staff members within social movements. It’s very important to me that embedded journalism becomes it’s only piece of the social movement pie with its own structures and models to increase sustainability.

For now, I imagine that embedded journalism exists in order for young up-and-coming journalists to discover the ways in which they can develop their voice as journalists within social movements, while also developing a new way to talk about justice work within the journalism world. I have three goals right now in developing this program: A) to develop a preliminary philosophy that is useful to these discussions, B) to develop and implement a training program, and C) to focus on becoming an embedded journalist. However, I would say that the goals of embedded journalism are much greater: to develop a new way of discussing social movements within the journalism world, to train young people to become journalists (and, thus, necessary components in justice work), and to create (even more) powerful journalism from within social movements.

Because embedded journalism is not about devaluing the powerful work happening in and around social movements. It’s about adding more value to the journalism occurring in social movement journalism. And it doesn’t ignore the “embedded” journalism already occurring in social movements. Rather it provides an opportunity to train young people in very specific ways, to help them develop their voice, and bring more knowledge from within those social movements to light in order to learn from them and grow the movements. 

I’ll be blogging regularly as I work through understanding the concept and experience of embedded journalism in future weeks. I am very much wanting to get push-back and very much wanting constructive criticism. I am conducting the first test training of the embedded journalism program this weekend and I’ll be doing my best to work within this journalism model for the year I’m in Arizona. By the end of the year hopefully I’ll have answers.

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