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Intersecting journalism and activism: a new perspective beyond the information crisis

by Anna Irma Battino and Giovanni Marenda (Tele Radio City Onlus)

S-Info was created to build bridges between civil society organizations and the world of independent journalism, that is, between the realms of activism and information. A wide debate could be opened on the proximities and distances, similarities and differences between activism and journalism, spheres whose boundaries can be as sharp as blurred. Inhabiting this gray and sometimes contradictory space between action and storytelling – reporting on events and being part of the processes – has been part of our history since the foundation of Radio Sherwood, one of the first independent radio stations in Italy, born back in 1976 and still owned by Tele Radio City. 

The experience of free radios in 1970s Italy, which started as a political practice of “counter-information”, in the academic analyses has often been referred to as pioneering in terms of autonomous use of communication tools. With the arrival of the web in the late 1990s, these practices took on the characteristics of what we call “mediactivism”, whose techniques, tools and platforms are intertwined with those of direct action and civil disobedience typical of social movements (1). In this sense, as mediactivists we take on information as a battleground and our role as part of a political engagement aimed at social change, being aware that there is no such thing as “neutral” journalism or “objective” narratives, but that each of our words as well as our silence define a field choice. 

However, if the web’s development has paved the way for mass access to information and content production, by contrast today we are faced with the progressive monopolization of this sector, to the extent that the very means we use daily to read and write are controlled by a few multinational corporations. The Internet, instead of emerging as a common good and cooperative space, is prey to so-called “platform capitalism”, based on the control and sale of big data and precarious forms of labor (2). These changes have especially involved journalism, challenged by the decline of print media and the endless availability of free information online, today increasingly composed of young freelancers with an uncertain future.

Moreover, in many European countries we see the resurgence of censorship practices and tighter controls by both governments and the multinational platform corporations themselves, while we also witness the progressive flattening of the so-called “mainstream” media towards the dominant economic and political interests. In Italy, this silent restriction of the spaces of freedom and pluralism became evident, for example, as soon as investigative journalists tried to unveil the corruption of big fossil companies (3), as well as in the one-sided representations that characterize the current public debate on the escalating international conflicts (4).

At the same time, the rise of social networks as a primary information stage – especially for the younger generations – has led to the proliferation of individual, do-it-yourself media content, from telegram channels to stories on TikTok and Instagram. While these tools allow anyone to broadcast the world live circulating information often obscured in the mainstream, they also pose a serious problem of reliability being very often uncontrollable vehicles of fake news, as well as a progressive trivialization of concepts and depoliticization of contents. Being sacrificed in the social networks’ instantaneous and direct information seems to be the efforts of storytelling, investigation and interpretation proper to the journalistic profession, capable of doing research in the field, of creating open and multidisciplinary editorial dynamics, of being the voice of social struggles for justice and equality.

These are in our view some of the momentous challenges facing the world of journalism today, in the midst of a crisis that is not only economic but ontological. What are the boundaries of journalism nowadays? What is its social function? Does it still make sense to be a journalist? 

Our answer starts from reclaiming that attitude of militant communication that made the history of counterinformation first and then of mediactivism. It is a call for a new “slow”(5), participatory, in-depth, insubordinate, free journalism that looks to primary sources and goes beyond institutional mediation. But above all, for a situated journalism, that is, one capable of taking part in social change, oriented toward today’s inescapable values of social and environmental justice, democracy, and the enlargement of rights. 

As stated in the article with which The Guardian inaugurated its new editorial line in October 2019 (8), with particular reference to the ongoing climate catastrophe, journalism can no longer have a “neutral” position. In this sense, strengthening the link between journalism and activism, as the S-Info project proposes, means strengthening European civil society and giving journalism a new centrality in social change. 

This is why we are among the entities promoting this project, which focuses on the one hand on the concrete need to make journalism an active part in the processes of emancipation, on the other hand on providing activism with more professional tools that will increase its capacity to have a tangible impact on society. Indeed, if journalism must stand as a tool for organizations that strive to address the multiple crises of the contemporary world, on the other side journalistic method and skills are necessary to translate these instances without leaving them at the mercy of self-narrative and refining the capacity to understand the complexity of reality. 

Fleshing out the hybrid and convergent space that will be S-Info – by having information professionals and CSO activists collaborating in training and joint investigative work – does not mean overlapping and crushing these two figures one on the other, denying their specificities and distinct spheres of action. Nor is it to empty journalism of its role as a mediator between facts and narratives. But it means engaging in a generative dialectic, also made of contradictions, but with a new purpose and perspective. To build from below a common future. 

  1. Pasquinelli, M. (2002). Media activism: strategie e pratiche della comunicazione indipendente: mappa internazionale e manuale d’uso. DeriveApprodi.
  2. Vecchi, B (2020). Il capitalismo delle piattaforme. Manifestolibri.
  3. Battino, A.I. La censura preventiva di ENI: il caso della trasmissione “Petrolio”, 2 marzo 2024.
  4. Gli scontri alla Fiera dell’Oro e la necessità di ribaltare le narrazioni, 25 gennaio 2024.
  5. According to Laufer, “slow journalism” is a journalism “of substance, aiming for fairness, accuracy, clarity.” It is a philosophical approach but also a working method. The characteristics that distinguish slow journalism are: verification of sources, careful and reasoned selection of topics, independence from the timing of breaking news and the agenda of the day, analytical and in-depth approach to facts, attention to the audience, sustainability of the project (P. Laufer, 2014; J. Rauch, 2018; A. Puliafito and D. Nalbone, 2019).
  6. Viner, K. Today we pledge to give the climate crisis the attention it demands, The Guardian, 16 ottobre 2019.