Editor’s Note: The following is a condensed excerpt from “Using My Word Power” by columnist Janice Ellis. The book is now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books and other major online booksellers. It is also available on the author’s website, Real Advocacy Journalism.
I’ve been an activist journalist for almost four decades, which is nothing short of a miracle considering that I grew up on a small cotton farm in Mississippi. Against all odds, as someone who has learned and experienced cruel and inhuman indignities and injustices simply because of skin color and gender, I earned a doctorate from a highly respected university.
My life experiences, during very turbulent times in an ever-changing America, have profoundly shaped my writing – providing the water, mission, authority and authenticity required of a true advocacy journalist.
From the perch of poverty, farm life, family and the confined community I grew up in, 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 promoting a good society, which is the focus of this book which is the first in a series of three books.
Throughout life I have loved and lost, I have given birth and raised children alone as a divorcee, I have withstood verbal and physical abuse from a husband and fiancé, I have had meteoric success as a corporate and municipal executive and recovered from colossal failure as a small business owner.
All the while navigating American life, as a woman, black and forever struggling against allowing either of these indelible birthmarks to define me or confine me.
More about the trials and triumphs of my life journey are described in my memoirs, From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream (2018).
As circumstances, issues and forces – social, political, economic – occur all around me, pushing against me, I have chosen to push back. I consciously entered and continue to enter the fray, using the power of words – the only real and lasting weapon I have.
Being a journalist was not my formal training nor my profession. Becoming a journalist lawyer was my vocation. I was 14 years old.
Ever since I left graduate school and sought to find my productive place in society, I’ve always kept a pen and paper – now a smartphone or a notepad – nearby to capture an idea. , a thought or a plea concerning a human condition, an issue of public policy. , or a social problem.
I wrote full reviews of cocktail napkins on a flight home from a business trip, after putting my briefcase or computer in the overhead rack. I dared not to have taken the risk of recovering one or the other and run the risk of losing the idea, the message, an urgent plea, which was just waiting to be expressed.
I am convinced that the writing of a true advocacy journalist always boils down, directly or indirectly, intentionally or not, to a plea – imploring the reader or the listener to reflect, to consider the facts, the circumstances, the feasible solutions for current issues and when appropriate and necessary to engage in action.
As a woman, black, wife, mother, career professional, and in the exercise of my calling as an activist journalist, I have primarily addressed some of the lingering issues of our time. But also, I couldn’t ignore the temporal urgencies of the day.
As a collection, my commentaries are true snapshots and windows into American history.
Most have retained their relevance over time and have been included in the book because of their opportunity and timelessness. One of my editors calls them “evergreens”. For that, I am grateful. This characterization made me write when, in those rare moments of desperation, I asked, “Why do I even bother to write anything?”
Over the past four decades, Commentary has been written for a major radio station, a major metropolitan daily, community newspapers, as a guest columnist for a metropolitan business newspaper, and currently online for an American news publication. State.
Whatever the means of communication, I have tried to respect the standards of what I call Genuine advocacy journalismwhich is covered in detail in my award-winning book, Shaping Public Opinion: How to Practice Real Advocacy Journalism(2021).
What is the difference between advocacy journalism, as it is too often practiced today, and Real Advocacy journalism which 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, fact and fiction, and often portrays fake news as real news. The purpose and objectives of such advocacy journalism is propaganda aimed at gaining public support for the interests 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 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, misleading, and unfactual treatments can only do a disservice to an addicted, hopeful, misinformed, and trusting public.
In my writings, I have tried to stick to the facts, to analyze them, to put an event, a situation or a problem into perspective to promote a better understanding and to give an orientation to form an opinion or pursue an action.
We all live and function in an orbit of influence.
I hope that by sharing my attempts to improve understanding of the issues that affect us all, you will be informed, enlightened, inspired, and reaffirmed and resolved that: The wise use of our words can inform and provoke actions that improve lives , communities , and thus advance a more civilized and better society.