Activism is a big word. It can look like hunger strikes, building occupations or thousands marching on the national mall. But it can also look like your dinner plate, shopping bag or keyboard.
It’s a word used often on this campus, taking on a different meaning depending on the context. In some conversations it’s used proudly, a reminder of the protests that laid the foundation for the grounds we live on. In other spaces it’s said with a sigh, waiting for students to outgrow their idealism.
At City on a Hill Press (CHP), activism looks like journalism.
In most other newsrooms, that would be sacrilegious. It would mean disregarding objectivity, a golden standard of journalism hounded into the heads of rookie reporters. But CHP staffers have known for years that objectivity is a myth and one that has lead to the exclusion and misrepresentation of entire communities.
As journalists, not only is it impossible to separate our lived experiences from our work, it’s foolish. Objectivity accounts for facts — which of course are crucial — and leaves little room for experiences and interactions that define the world around us but are less legible on paper. Our collective experiences span years, zip codes, creeds and identities. They inform our understanding of the society so that, in turn, we can report on it more completely.
It’s that understanding — honed through books, analysis, conversations, interviews and more analysis — that keeps us in pursuit of the truth. That’s where the intersection of activism and journalism lies. Like activists, journalists share a desire to see the world better than it is. We aim to snuff out injustice and keep those in power accountable — only we’ve picked reporting and storytelling as our tools of choice.
“It is not a matter of being an activist or a journalist; it’s a false dichotomy,” journalist Glenn Greenwald said in an interview with the late David Carr. “It is a matter of being honest or dishonest. All activists are not journalists, but all real journalists are activists. Journalism has a value, a purpose — to serve as a check on power.”
As CHP celebrates its 50th year, we are fortunate for the history of generations of young journalists who shared our commitment to watchdogging power. Our alumni set a precedent for deviating from mainstream media, shifting power dynamics and telling the stories other outlets ignored.
In the mid-’70s CHP launched an investigative series about the UC regents investments in IBM and the corporation’s involvement in South African apartheid. In the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, CHP was the first to write about how the damage in Watsonville was far worse than in Santa Cruz. And in the ’90s, staffers traveled to Mexico to investigate the impacts of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on rural communities.
When we were elected editors-in-chief last year, it was clear the legacy of student agency and activism required to keep the paper afloat ran deep. Hundreds of past CHP staffers gave up their nights, weekends and even peace of mind to keep that unyielding dedication to truth and justice at the core of the paper, despite no university support.
It’s a unique opportunity to be part of a publication that’s entirely student-run and self-funded, where we have a great stake in the well-being of our community and endeavor to create media with the potential to move it forward. As you’ll read in this issue, the journey toward change is a long one. Our role as journalists is not one of revolutionaries, but to tell the whole story. Journalism alone can’t fix injustice, but it can start the conversation and create new models of storytelling.
Progress begins by writing in a way that is fair and representative, because in deciding to do so, you make room for discourse and ultimately the world to change.
Alexa Lomberg & Montse Reyes