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Objectivity is one of the pillars of journalism, ingrained into a newsroom's editorial processes and taught to trainee journalists from the very first day.

But there is also space for journalists to take a stand on what they believe in, said Dan Gillmor, board member of the First Amendment Coalition and Guardian columnist.

"I don't believe objectivity really exists," he said at the GEN Summit today. "It's kind of a unicorn, it's a nice idea..."

"But even as we are worshipping at this altar of objectivity or neutrality, there's some issues where, as journalists, we simply cannot be neutral, cannot be objective and should not try to be."

He highlighted the freedoms which are under threat in the digital world, freedoms that are essential to journalists and citizens: freedom to associate, collaborate and innovate, all intertwined with the freedom of the press.

He said there is "an attack on the decentralised fundamental nature of the internet" from governments and corporations, as well as mass-surveillance, as revealed by the NSA leaks of Edward Snowden.

"If we're ok with that, are we doing our jobs correctly as journalists?" he asked delegates.

"We journalists should be using encryption all the time, but we shouldn't stop there.

"We should be teaching encryption to our audiences, helping them use it themselves."

He pointed to more issues journalists have failed to deal with "in a fundamental way" while discussing how to fit in with "the world of Facebook", such as the threat to net neutrality in Europe, for example.

The media industry should recognise the idea of "activism as journalism", a connection that makes many uncomfortable – some of the finest reporting can be done by advocacy groups and NGOs like Human Rights Watch, he said.

There are however many activists who are pushing out propaganda, but "there is a great role for activism in journalism".

"Please be activists for those core freedoms... Please campaign against control and please campaign for more open systems and technologies than the ones that are being created around us," he told delegates.

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