Media Resource

Backstory: Behind the Bylines - Advocacy Journalism in America

An upper body photograph of Ida B. Wells Barnett from c. 1893
Photo caption

Ida B. Wells-Barnett in a photograph by Mary Garrity, ca. 1893.

This episode of Backstory tackles the sticky subject of advocacy journalism. Through the stories of two different reporters, listeners will hear about the tradition of advocacy journalism, consider the role of the reporter in society, and think about the concept of objectivity. 

A full transcript of the episode can be found on the Backstory website. Each segment below includes analysis questions and prompts to draw connections to contemporary and historical issues.

Audio file

Reports of Strange Fruit (2:15-22:30)

Comprehension Questions

  • What motivated Ida B. Wells to become a full-time journalist? 

  • What changes did journalism and the newspaper business experience in the late 19th century? 

  • What did the concept of “objectivity” mean in 19th century journalism? 

  • What are some characteristics of newspaper coverage of lynchings in the United States? 

  • What risks did Ida B. Wells face doing her own investigations of lynching? 

  • How did Ida B. Wells challenge the white press narrative on lynching?  

  • To what extent did Ida B. Wells change politics and the public discourse around race and lynching in the United States? 

  • What is the lasting legacy of Ida B. Wells?  

EDSITEment Resources

  • Learn more about lynching during newspaper coverage of lynchings in the United States and NAACP anti-lynching crusade during the early 20th century in segment titled “Respectfully Yours, Gainer Atkins” from the the BackStory episode “Blackstory" and in our curriculum on NAACP's Anti-Lynching Campaigns: The Quest for Social Justice in the Interwar Years.
  • See “Diverse Perspectives and Chronicling America” section of our Teacher’s Guide on Chronicling America for further comparisons on how the Black press differed from mainstream press and newspapers in the 19th century.

Fine Line to Report (23:15-30:20)

Comprehension Questions

  • When might advocacy journalism be warranted?  
  • What is the relationship between advocacy journalism and partisanship?

  • What is the role of a reporter in society today? 

La Voz del Pueblo (30:39-42:30)

Comprehension Questions

  • Who was Ruben Salazar? 

  • What was the purpose of the Chicano movement? 

  • How did Salazar’s identity as Mexican American shape his career in reporting and advocacy? 

  • What is the difference between an activist and an advocate? 

  • Why do some people feel that Salazar’s martyrdom is misplaced?  

EDSITEment Resources

Additional Resources

Frank Romero talks about his 1986 painting, Death of Rubén Salazar

Is It All Relative? (42:55-46:30)

Comprehension Questions

  • To what extent do you agree with Rubén Salazar’s assessment that objectivity in the press is unrealistic?  

  • In an era of “fake news,” how should journalists prioritize accuracy or objectivity to increase public trust of media coverage?  

  • How do you think journalists can balance advocacy and conventional reporting?