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Leave ‘neutrality behind,’ Soros-funded UT Austin journalism program says

Tech giants Google and Facebook are among financial supporters

The “Solidarity Journalism Initiative” at University of Texas at Austin teaches students to “convey outrage” and and abandon neutrality with the funding of top tech companies and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

The initiative, which is part of the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Media Engagement, “helps journalists, journalism educators, and journalism students improve coverage of marginalized communities,” according to its website.

“The people who know the most about an issue – based on lived expertise – are missing or minimized in news coverage,” according to the website’s Solidarity Reporting Guide.

“The decision to report – or not report – on these conditions inherently leaves neutrality behind,” the Solidarity Journalism program states.

The program began at UT-Austin in 2021, after Professor Anita Varma brought it from Santa Clara University. The College Fix reached out by email to Varma twice over two weeks but did not receive a response.

The Fix reached out twice each by email to media relations at the Knight Center for Journalism as well as its founder, Professor Rosental Alves, and Director Mallory Tenore. No responses were received.

Financial backers of the initiative include Google and Facebook according to the “About Us” page.

Students must learn to act in “solidarity,” according to the reporting guide.

“Solidarity is ‘a commitment to social justice that translates into action,'” according to the guide, which Varma (pictured) wrote.

“In other words, solidarity is more than a feeling, attitude, or pledge – it is about taking steps…to put promises into practice,” the guide continued.

Journalism Professor Jeffrey McCall criticized this approach in an email to The College Fix.

“The journalism profession should absolutely reject this vacuous and harmful approach to ‘news,’” McCall said.

“Credibility for the news industry is already at historic lows,” the DePauw University professor told The Fix.

“If advocacy journalism becomes the norm in America, the public will simply tune it out because it will be untrustworthy,” he said.

“’Solidarity reporting’ works by ‘first determin[ing] an ideological goal, and then craft[ing] content to meet that objective,'” McCall said.

Instead, “professional journalism should go where facts lead and report without fear or favor,” McCall said.

Professor Varma has a different approach.

She wrote an article in 2021 for Nieman Lab titled, “Solidarity eclipses objectivity as journalism’s dominant ideal,” where she argued that “objectivity as an aspirational ideal ends up encouraging journalists to avoid addressing what matters.”

“In coverage of issues like immigration, Covid-19, police brutality, and housing instability, the idea that observations will objectively speak for themselves is quickly off the table,” Varma wrote.

The Soros Open Society Foundations is founded on a philosophy which holds that “no philosophy or ideology is the final arbiter of truth, and that societies can only flourish when they allow for democratic governance, freedom of expression, and respect for individual rights,” according to its website.

Soros himself is known for criticizing the war on drugs, “kick-start[ing] America’s medical marijuana movement,” and becoming “a vocal backer of same-sex marriage,” according to the site.

The Fix reached out to the media relations team at the Open Society Foundations to ask if it funds the Solidarity Initiative and for its views on solidarity replacing objectivity as a goal of journalism. It has not responded.

MORE: Media should abandon ‘objectivity’: ASU journalism professor

IMAGES: Antonio Scorza/Shutterstock, Toronto Metropolitan University

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Tate Miller is a student at Liberty University studying journalism. She is the founder Thatsasnap Productions, a photography business launched in 2018.