Local Superhero: Steve Ahlquist discusses journalism as an art form

During a recent interview, independent multimedia journalist (and Motif contributor) Steve Ahlquist and I talked about tapping into the art of journalism. The below is an excerpt that has been lightly edited for clarity.

Bill Bartholomew (Motif): As independent multimedia journalists we often take a straight-up artist’s approach to the work. 

Steve Ahlquist: That’s true. And that’s interesting you said artists, because I think of journalism as an art form more than as a craft. I guess there is a craft to it, but it’s more than just a job, it’s an art, right? 


There’s not a science to journalism. I think you have to make decisions on the fly, and some of those decisions aren’t cut and dried. There is no book you go to that says, “If A then B.” It’s more asking yourself, “What do I feel is right here?” Sometimes, it’s just following an emotional current. 

BB: Understanding the human condition and understanding the environment that we’re living in. All of those intangibles come into play in great journalism. It’s an art form. You think of the great broadcasters, the great writers, videographers, radio personalities, whatever it is. To me, they’re in a similar context as fine artists. It’s about the storytelling tradition rather than an academic endeavor. I don’t know, it just comes from a slightly different place. 

SA: There’s a way to do a story where you don’t know anything about the story, and you show up at the site and you say, “Okay, who was holding a sign saying ‘yes’, who’s holding a sign saying ‘no’, I’ll get an interview with both of them.” I’ll put them in opposition in my video or my writing. Then I’ve got to balance each story, but it doesn’t always really make it … the truth of the world, the reality of the world, right? 

So the guy saying ‘yes’ to, I don’t know, some stupid thing like murder and somebody saying ‘no’ to murder and then you would classify them as if they’re equal. Does that really make sense? I mean you haven’t brought any judgment into it. Haven’t put any thought into the macro issue. The truth is one guy is a liar and one guy is a truth teller. So, you really need to know something about the subject and you need to understand what people are bringing to it, what the motivations are for being there. And if you get there, I think now you’re closer to something like truth and you’re closer to what I would think of as real balance and real objectivity, even. And then, you also have to kind of own your biases, as I like to say, right? You know, everybody is biased, but you want to be open about them. 

BB: Yeah. And that’s something that UpriseRI [Ahlquist’s news site] certainly is. It’s not trying to disguise itself as right down the middle in terms of coverage or opinion. 

SA: No, that whole “fair and balanced” like the old FOX logo. We don’t do that, because I’ve never believed that in my life. I always thought people have some sort of bias that they’re carrying with them. Even if they’re carrying this idea of journalism as a beacon of truth inside them, then you’re serving journalism maybe more than you’re serving the story. You know, if you’re defending journalism above all, then there’s also an issue there. I’m not sure. Maybe I’m defending truth above all and maybe that’s a problem, too. Or at least people know what I really try to serve, right? 

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