What is access journalism?

 

One of the relatively new aspects of journalism which has become common in media houses is media time with important, rich, famous, powerful or otherwise influential people in politics, culture, sports, and other areas. access journalism. This refers to journalism (often in interview form) which gives priority to access over journalistic objectivity and/or integrity. Access here refers to interviews or any other way to get stories (especially exclusives) from sources.

Seymour Hersh, a renowned investigative journalist was the first to describe this form of journalism as access journalism (Manning, 2018).

The term, access journalism is also used to refer to the compromises journalists must make in order to have, maintain or retain access to sources and places that would be denied them, were they to offend those who control access. This means that access journalism could also mean ‘compromise’ journalism where the reporter is a bit handicapped because he or she has to remain in the good books of a news source in order to keep getting information, or simply put, to hav access to information. For instance, when Eason Jordan (a former CNN reporter from 1982-2005) admitted in 2003 at the invasion of Iraq, that CNN had systematically avoided reporting negative things about Sadam for the previous 12 years, in order to be allowed to stay in Iraq, what he revealed essentially was how deeply CNN had compromised journalistic values for the sake of being able to continue reporting from a given place (Seconddraft.org, 2019).

Access journalism often involves self-censorship, in which the journalists voluntarily cease to speak of issues that might embarrass their hosts. The problem with access journalism is that at some level every reporter has to play the game… a remorselessly hostile reporter at the White House will not get called on (Seconddraft.org, 2019). Ethical standards are overlooked in order to ensure access to sources and this is one of the major negatives of access journalism.

Manning (2018) describes access journalism as a new form of journalism often regarded as “exclusive investigation”, but in fact has little in common with traditional reporting methodologies. Manning further notes that very often any fact derived through this form of journalism appears to be a leak ‘from’ security agencies, not ‘about’ them. The stories become a convenient form of government propaganda.

According to Manning, in this form, journalists report the access, usually an allegation, and do not either prove or disprove the allegation. This form has the following features:

  • the evidence is based on sources who cannot be named
  • there is no evidence base (such as a document or money trail)
  • it lacks transparency, in that the evidence cannot be independently verified
  • it serves one side’s agenda (usually the government’s)
  • it uses words in the text that have little definition (especially “is linked to”
  • it can be written and published very quickly.

This is in sharp contrast with the traditional form of “investigative journalism”, which has the following traits (Manning, 2018):

  • it is based on identifiable sources whose standing and credibility enhance the claims
  • it is evidence-based (including documents, finances, and so on) proving a specific thesis or proposition formally stated in the text
  • its evidence is available for checking
  • it serves no-one’s agenda, in that several sides of the argument are heard, allowing readers/viewers to make up their own minds as to the truth
  • it does not use words that unnecessarily pre-judge the final conclusion
  • it takes a painstaking amount of time to build the evidence base, allow balance, and get legal advice if needed.

This form of journalism definitely does not provide platform for objective investigative reporting. The investigative journalism should understand that an allegation is not necessarily a story, nor is a “link to something” automatically evidence. There is need for proper reliable sources and transparency in both in the investigative process in order not to slaughter ethics on the altar of access.

Investigative journalism aims at providing truth about people from government and other entities such as corporations who attempt to keep their often illegal activities secret. If the purpose is to expose such actions so that those involved can be held accountable then access journalism will be ineffective in achieving this goal.

 

Reference

Manning, P. (2018, December 20). How ‘access journalism’ is threatening investigative journalism. The Conversation. Accessed 1-11-2019 from https://theconversation.com/how-access-journalism-is-threatening-investigative-journalism-108831

Seconddraft (2019). Access Journalism. The Second Draft. Accessed 02-11-2019 from https://www.seconddraft.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=76&Itemid=91

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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