John Ross: Journalists Should Be Rebels

Reporter and poet John Ross viewed journalism not as a profession but as a moral responsibility. In a posthumously published series of his lectures, REBEL REPORTING: John Ross Speaks to Independent Journalists, he asserts that journalists have an obligation to speak truth to power.

Wisconsin NWU member Norman Stockwell co-edited this collection with journalist and activist Cristalyne Bell. The former is operations manager of Madison’s community radio station WORT-FM, which aired a podcast in December about the new book.

Stockwell met Ross in Mexico more than two decades ago. A few years before his death at 72 in 2011, Ross asked Stockwell to publish his lectures in a book.

Throughout his life, Ross not only reported about rebellion, but did so in a way that his work itself served as a form of resistance against what many think journalism has become: a regurgitation of information from official sources.

In the book, Ross offers the following advice for budding journalists:

“Forget about your career. You have an obligation … to tell the truth about the way the world works.” He went on to say, “Rebel reporting is the polar opposite of J-School journalism, which is all about personal and corporate power, about conserving the power of the class from whose loins most J-Schoolers spring.”

As a young man, Ross was a member of the Beat Generation. He moved from New York City to California’s Bay Area, and finally emigrated to Mexico in the late 1950s. He served time in federal prison for resisting the draft during the Vietnam War.

In 2003, he traveled to Iraq, where he had hoped to serve as a “human shield” to protect Iraqi civilians before the US-led invasion.

The author of many books, including one about Mexico City, where he spent almost all of his time since 1985, he wrote for Mexico City’s La Jornada, as well as for San Francisco newspapers, CounterPunch and Pacific News Service. Ross covered political corruption in both Mexico and the US.

His final work, Rebel Reporting, with its introduction by Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now” and foreword by Robert W. McChesney, a University of Illinois professor, outlines the basic responsibilities of a journalist: to document injustice and poetically pitch stories to audiences in order to create change within society.

Find out more about the book here