Opinion

Opinion: We all have power within us to do good with our words

I have been an advocate journalist for nearly four decades, which is nothing short of a miracle when you take into account that I was raised on a small cotton farm in Mississippi. Against all odds, as someone who learned of and lived through cruel inhumane indignities and injustices simply because of skin color and gender, I graduated from a highly respected university with a PhD.

My life experiences, during some very turbulent periods in an ever-evolving America,  have profoundly shaped my writings — providing the grist, mission, authority and authenticity required of a true advocate journalist.

From the perch of poverty, farm life, family and the confining community in which I grew up, I found my sense of purpose and determination to try to change things, to make them better. It was there that I gained an initial understanding of the importance and role of ethics and values in fostering a good society, which is the focus of this book that is the first of a three-book series.

As life has had its way, I have loved and lost, given birth and reared children alone as a divorcee, weathered verbal and physical abuse from a husband and fiancé, have had trail-blazing successes as an executive in corporate business and municipal government and recovered from a colossal failure as a small business owner.

All while navigating American life, as a woman, Black and forever fighting against allowing either of those indelible birthmarks to define me, or confine me.

More about the trials and triumphs of my life journey are described in my memoir, From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream (2018).

As circumstances, issues, and forces — social, political, economic — occur all around me, push against me, I have chosen to push back. I have consciously entered and continue to enter the fray, using the power of words — the only real and lasting weapon I have.

Being a journalist has not been my formal training nor my profession. Becoming an advocate journalist has been my calling.

Since leaving graduate school and seeking to find my productive place in society, I have always kept pen and paper—now a smartphone or notepad—near to capture an idea, a thought, or a plea, regarding some human condition, some public policy issue, or some social problem.

I have written complete commentaries on cocktail napkins during a return flight from a business trip, after having put my briefcase or computer in the overhead bin. I dared not to have taken the chance to retrieve either and run the risk of losing the idea, the message, a pressing plea, which beckoned to be expressed.

It is my belief that the writings of a true advocate journalist always boil down, directly, or indirectly, intentionally, or unintentionally, to a plea — imploring the reader or listener to think, to consider the facts, the circumstances, the workable solutions for the issues at hand and when appropriate and necessary to engage in action.

As a woman, a black, a wife, a mother, a career professional, and in carrying out my calling to be an advocate journalist, I have primarily addressed some of the enduring issues of our times. But also, I could not ignore the temporal urgent issues of the day.

As a collection, my commentaries are veritable snapshots of and windows into American history.

Most have maintained their relevancy over time, and have been included in the book because of their timeliness and timelessness. One of my newspaper editors characterizes them as “evergreens.” For that I am grateful. That characterization has kept me writing when in those infrequent moments of despair I have asked, “Why am I bothering to write anything?”

During the past four decades, the commentaries have been written for a large radio station, a major metropolitan daily newspaper, community newspapers, as a guest columnist for a metropolitan business journal, and currently online for a state news publication.

Regardless of the medium of communication, I have tried to adhere to the standards of what I call Real Advocacy Journalism, which is covered in detail in my award-winning book, Shaping Public Opinion: How Real Advocacy Journalism Should Be Practiced (2021).

What is the difference between advocacy journalism, as it is too often practiced today, and Real Advocacy Journalism that is described and advanced in the book?

Much of the advocacy journalism practiced today is partisan, biased, and often blurs the lines between truth and lies, facts and fiction, and often presents fake news as real news. The purpose and objectives of such advocacy journalism constitute propaganda to gain public support for the interest and agenda of a few, a special interest group, or a small constituency rather than for the good of the majority.

Complex local, regional, national, and global issues are often covered and treated with a biased and simplistic categorization. This happens all too frequently when the public is asked to form an opinion or support an action.

A constant barrage of simplistic, distorted, biased, untruthful, non-factual treatments can only be a disservice to a dependent, hopeful, ill-informed, trusting public.

In my writings, I have endeavored to stick to the facts, analyze them, put an event, situation, or issue into perspective in order to foster a better understanding, and provide direction to form an opinion or pursue an action.

We all live and function in an orbit of influence.

My hope is that in sharing my attempts to improve understanding about issues that impact us all that you will be informed, enlightened, inspired and have reaffirmation and resolve that: The wise use of our words can inform and bring about actions that improve lives, communities, and therefore advance a more civilized and better society.

Janice Ellis

Editor’s note: The above is a condensed excerpt from “Using My Word Power” by columnist Janice Ellis. The book is available from AmazonBarnes & NobleKoboApple Books and other major online booksellers, as well as at the author’s website, Real Advocacy Journalism.

This commentary is published here via The Missouri Independent.

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