In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Advocacy Journalism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Definitions and Boundaries
  • The Relationship between Advocacy and Objectivity

Communication Advocacy Journalism
Ryan Thomas
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0281


Broadly defined, advocacy journalism is a label applied to any journalistic genre or output that advocates; that is, journalism that explicitly takes a point of view. This is in contrast to journalism that is studiously neutral. Advocacy journalism thus derives its meaning and its potency from this contrast. Because of the broad way it has been defined, and the variety of journalistic specialisms it consequently encompasses, the term has some conceptual elasticity. At the level of the media system, there are many press systems where the mainstream press is characterized by adherence to an advocacy-driven style of reporting, as demonstrated by journalism in many Latin American contexts. This is unlike press systems where advocacy is sectioned away into specific genres or outputs and where “objective” reporting is the defining characteristic of the journalistic mainstream, of which the United States of America is the likely exemplar. At the level of journalistic output, one can identify a variety of journalistic “products” that operate from a presumption of advocacy, namely, newspaper opinion sections, letters pages, partisan political magazines, and the activist and radical press. The dominance of objectivity as a journalistic norm means that insufficient attention has been given to the contribution of advocacy journalism (and opinion-driven journalism more generally) to democracy and public life. By piecing together disparate literatures and taking a holistic view of both “advocacy” and “journalism,” one can start to get an understanding of the unique functions of advocacy journalism as a genre of journalism within a democracy.

General Overviews

Advocacy journalism is, as noted, an extremely broad and diverse field anchored by its orientation toward opinion rather than “neutral” reporting. As a consequence of this conceptual elasticity, relatively few works address advocacy journalism in its totality. Rather, a multitude of works address specific manifestations of advocacy journalism, as shall be summarized shortly. The genre is summarized in Thomas 2018, which distinguishes between “segmented” and “woven” advocacy, and opinion in journalism generally is addressed in Rystrom 2004, which provides a comprehensive overview of the different areas of journalism where opinion appears. The diversity of the genre is vividly illustrated in Applegate 2009, a biographical dictionary of advocacy journalists, that encompasses the conservative writer and founder of the National Review William F. Buckley Jr., the feminist writer and founder of Ms. Gloria Steinem, and the satirist and pamphleteer Jonathan Swift. Jacobs and Townsley 2011 is a helpful introduction to “the space of opinion” within US journalism, examining how it has expanded and contracted over time and making a spirited defense of opinion-driven journalism and its place in democracy.

  • Applegate, E. 2009. Advocacy journalists: A biographical dictionary of writers and editors. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow.

    This biographical dictionary is helpful not only for the thoughtful biographies it provides for each of its storied entries, but for illustrating the vast expanse that “advocacy journalism” seems to cover, encompassing satirists (e.g., Jonathan Swift), political magazine editors (e.g., William F. Buckley), radical and dissident writers (e.g., Karl Marx), and society columnists (e.g., Westbrook Pegler). That the four individuals identified here would rarely be grouped together in any other context speaks volumes about the elasticity of advocacy journalism’s boundaries.

  • Jacobs, R. N., and E. Townsley. 2011. The space of opinion: Media intellectuals and the public sphere. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199797929.001.0001

    This book provides a summary of “the space of opinion” within journalism, examining how it has expanded and contracted over time. Arguing against the prevailing tendency in scholarship and public discourse to see opinion in journalism as emblematic of journalistic decline, Jacobs and Townsley argue for the genre’s value across such outputs as op-ed sections, cable news, and political talk shows. They provide a useful history of opinion and an overview of where it can be found in latter-day journalism.

  • Rystrom, K. 2004. The why, who, and how of the editorial page. State College, PA: Strata.

    This well-organized but sadly undercited work stays true to its title by examining the “why” (i.e., the purpose of opinion in journalism), the “who” (i.e., the journalists who “do” opinion and the outputs they produce), and the “how” (i.e., how to craft good opinion-driven journalism) of not just the editorial page, but also of opinion journalism generally. It presents its subject matter in an extremely accessible manner.

  • Thomas, R. J. 2018. Advocacy journalism. In Journalism. Edited by T. P. Vos, 391–414. Boston: Walter de Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781501500084-020

    This book chapter takes a broad approach to defining advocacy journalism, distinguishing between “segmented” advocacy (i.e., advocacy that is segmented away from reporting and classified as distinct) and “woven” advocacy (i.e., contexts where advocacy is part of the journalistic mainstream). A systematic review of the literature identifies how advocacy journalism has been constructed as a form of analysis and interpretation; a spirit of critique and social change; a political intervention; and an emblem of journalistic decline.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.