Success in Social Justice Journalsim

KJB102 Assessment 3

Shelley Cheng

Knowing I want to be a social justice journalist has influenced what I gained out of KJB102. In studying the nature of the media industry and learning about the importance of the Fourth Estate, I believe that pursuing social justice will entail many challenges. Though I learnt about many issues surrounding journalism, media and communication, I consider sexism, racism and public responsibility to be the three most enriching topics covered. By explaining what social justice journalism encompasses and presenting the three topics in terms of this career path, I will discuss the personal and professional characteristics I need to begin developing in order to respond to the challenges ahead.

What is social justice journalism?
As Sam Pizzigati says, in the introduction to Eesha Williams’ Grassroots Journalism, “We spend…the better part of our everyday lives in a world that media create for us, a world, paradoxically, where everyday people are largely invisible” (Ahlquist, 2016). Social justice journalism addresses the problems everyday people, casualties of the political and economic order (Jeske, 2003). The marginalised and the poor can’t hold a press conference or issue press releases that draw attention to their grievances. In a myriad of ways, the lack of media access perpetuates inequality (Jeske, 2003) and the Fourth Estate aims to abate this inequality. The purpose of the Fourth Estate is to monitor those in public office, on the premise that powerful institutions have to be prevented from overstepping their bounds (Coronel, 2007). In social justice journalism, media professionals expose society’s deeply problematic issues, like sexism and racism. These media professionals therefore bear the responsibility to form the Fourth Estate and give voice to the oppressed (Ahlquist, 2016).

Sexism is the systemic oppression and exploitation of women (Napikoski, 2016). In this patriarchal society, women are disadvantaged in every aspect of our lives. In KJB102, most students are women. Generally, women graduates in journalism and related media degrees outnumber men graduates (Bollinger & O’Neill, 2008, p. 56). Even so, the Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media stated that men occupied 73 per cent of the top management jobs (IWMF, 2013). As men significantly outnumber women at the top of most organisations, it is inevitable that the rules and unwritten systems serve to advantage men. In a survey conducted by Pew Centre for Civic Journalism, 64 per cent of the female respondents who saw opportunities limited identified managements preference for the opposite sex as the obstacle (Selza & Company, 2002). Looking at the statistics of women losing out on opportunities to their male counterparts simply because of genitalia is disheartening, but being able to navigate an old boys club is a skill I will need.

Hearing from Amy Remekis during the panel discussion on gender has shown me the characteristics required to combat the issues produced by sexism in the work environment. She said she got every job and position she had through endless hassling: “I just hassled them until they gave me the position” (Remekis, 2016). This communicates to me that I should not accept defeat upon first instance of rejection and recognise the structural obstacles against me. I need to start building the personal characteristic of confidence in getting where and what I want, in chasing down every opportunity I want. I also need to not be so concerned about being considered “too brusque” or “bitchy”, because I most likely will be, due to the fact that I’m not a man. I believe developing a professional character who can reclaim and embrace these labels will be important in asserting my position and not allowing these labels to affect my reputation. In addition to facing limited opportunities, sexual harassment is something I need to be prepared to handle.

Workplace sexual harassment can be defined as any unsolicited, verbal or physical behaviour of a sexual nature, creating an intimidating or offensive work environment (AHRC, 2010). Cosmopolitan surveyed 2,235 female employees and found that one in three had experienced sexual harassment at work (Ruiz, 2015). With the shift in the journalism industry towards online publishing and social media, sexual harassment has become a daily, even constant experience for women. Clementine Ford receives daily rape threats, death threats and personal attacks by meminists from all over the world, including comments like, “Every time she speaks, she shows that she’s nothing more than a low IQ lemming with daddy issues” (Caswell, 2016).  As demonstrated by this comment, the internet has facilitated online attacks from anyone.

Knowing how to handle this in a work environment and oftentimes in the public eye, is imperative to my future career. Taking Amy’s advice, I need to develop a more verbal character and pronounce my stance very clearly (Remekis, 2016). Currently, only 29 per cent of women report workplace sexual harassment (Ruiz, 2015). I need to speak up and say “fuck off” whenever a situation calls for it. I can’t back away every time a man tries to reduce my professional person to an object for his gratification. Though the changing industry allows for more attacks, I can capitalise on this and use social media to call people out; I can screen-cap and share their messages, explaining why they’re problematic. In my current workplace I can start adopting a stern and less-apologetic character when people cross the line.

Another important topic discussed in KJB102 mainly within the Facebook group, is racism. Racism is the structural oppression of people of colour (POC) and has been a prevailing issue throughout the media industry. Racism exists in Australia. Studies have regularly shown by having a non-Anglo sounding name, the chances of receiving a call back from an employer is reduced by more than half (Martin, 2009). In an experiment carried out by Australian National University, it was revealed that a Chinese-named applicant needed to put 68 per-cent more applications than an Anglo-named applicant to get the same number of calls back (Martin, 2009). This lack of opportunity for POC is reflected in Australian media. In Media Watch’s video featuring the nationality of Australian newsreaders, the reporter says, “In a country where half the population is born overseas or has a parent born overseas, he is still a rarity. Turn on prime time news [and]…all you can see, is a sea of white” (Media Watch, 2016)

No matter how many professional or personal characteristics I develop in order to combat this issue, no matter how much more I qualified I am than my white counterparts, the structural obstacles will make achieving success very difficult. Even so, I believe consistency in my character will also help me progress in my career. As I learnt in studying one of Slavoj Zizek’s “secrets to success”, constant output of work and taking advantage of media convergence will build a media presence (Advameg, 2015). I need to be more committed in regularly writing and posting to my blog. Studies have shown that blogging is very beneficial to publicity; companies that blog receive 67 per cent more leads in comparison to those that don’t blog (Hayden, 2015). I must develop a more experimental character and be willing to make use of media convergence. I need to be dedicated to constant self-improvement and solidifying my values. This will help establish my identity, which was another characteristic discussed in Zizek’s “secrets to success” (Watson, 2011). When I enter the workforce, I need to be reliable, hardworking and persistent in everything I do. I won’t settle, but I will take every opportunity that allows me to construct a stronger identity in the media industry – a face other POC can relate to.

Apart from the pervasive under-representation of POC in the industry, when POC do obtain prominent roles, they are often attacked on the basis of their racial background and the stereotypes attached to it. According to a study by Balance Recruitment Australia, one out of three Australian employees fall victim of racial harassment each year (HC Mag, 2012). The recent outcry stemming from the nomination of Lee Lin Chin and Waleed Aly for the Logies reflects how POC in the media industry experience racism. The Daily Telegraph published an article titled, “Six reasons why Waleed Aly should not win Gold”, an attack that white nominees have never suffered (Hannaford, 2016). In addition, popular breakfast show host, Karl Stefanovic “joked” with his co-host, Lisa Wilkinson, saying she was “too white” to win an award. Wilkinson then replied, “I got a spray tan and everything and still didn’t make it” (Faruqi, 2016). White people are safe to make racist jokes from their position of comfort and privilege, while POC struggle to break through the systemic barriers that keep them from succeeding.

When they do succeed, their successes are invalidated by racism; the Logies nomination incident affirmed that. To say this discouraging would be an understatement. Previously, I always attributed my failings solely to my own inadequacy created by years of self-doubt stemming from comments like “you’re only smart because you’re Asian.” I’ve been conditioned to think I will never receive any recognition because I will only ever reach the expected standard. Undoing years of internalised racism and being proud of my achievements is something that will benefit me in working towards my career. I also believe developing a character of discernment will be needed in facing the issues produced by racism. Knowing when and how to respond to these attacks will be beneficial to my media identity. Responding to every single attack is not only impossible, but seen as obsessive and bitter. Responding immediately may result in unwise words said out of rage. Learning how to move on when I have exhausted myself in educating people, when bigotry is too much of a barrier, will also be a good characteristic to develop.

Another significant issue I anticipate to the face in my career is the weight of public responsibility in dealing with social justice issues. Media ethics is what is considered “right” and “wrong” in terms of practices and norms within the media (Ward, 2016). In our tutorial’s debate about the ethics of The Kyle and Jackie O Show Princess Kate prank call (Sawer, 2014), it became obvious that a lack evaluation can result in unforeseeable consequences. In my career, I will often have to balance the societal benefit to the damage caused, which can oftentimes be unclear.  The main question raised in discussions on ethics is: “Do the ends justify the means?” (Ward, 2016). Using social media call out bad behaviour involves asking this question. Without educating people and explaining to them the detriment of their behaviour, society cannot progress (Hamton et al., 2014). Social media has enabled the disenfranchised to bypass the political and economic order, and publicise injustices that otherwise remain invisible. However, social media has also enabled attacks on those engaging in the bad behaviour. Pew Research Centre found that online harassment can have long-term effects; 15 per cent of internet uses who have been harassed online feel that their reputation was damaged (Duggan, 2014). I have a responsibility to the public, and I am accountable to each side. As a media professional, one of the professional characteristics I will need to exhibit is non-partiality.

Additionally, I will be addressing issues like racism, sexism and classism; issues which deeply affect many people’s lives. I have to be vigilant in making sure I do not talk over them, in making sure I do not trivialise issues as a result of not being able to see past my own privilege. Personally, I need to be more willing to learn or relearn. I can start building my knowledge now, as I have easy access to ample resources. While an understanding of the subject matter is important, one of the most crucial personal and professional characteristics I need to make sure I succeed in my career is being a good listener. I need to be patient and willing to hear the voices I represent and make sure it is their voice and their message coming through.

KJB102 has widened my awareness about many issues, in a way that relates to my intended career path. Learning about sexism, racism and public responsibility and the issues produced by them has made me aware of the amount of character development I have to undergo. Through analysing the nature of the topics I learnt, the specific personal and professional characteristics I need to nurture have become more evident to me. In relevance to sexism, being more confident and verbal is essential to overcoming the lack of opportunity and harassment I will encounter. When faced with racism, working hard to establish a distinct identity, and becoming a more discerning person will benefit me in the struggle against oppression. In terms of public responsibility, being impartial is imperative, as well as constantly building my knowledge, being a better listener and becoming more self-aware. Building these characteristics will take years of hard work. So in order to be a successful media professional who actively contributes to the Fourth Estate, I will have to start now.



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