As part of studying journalism in college, we delved into its history, development, trends and ethics, and we realised that there is hardly any journalism left. The word is interchangeably used with propaganda, advertisements, press releases, etc. so much so that we got our class hoodies printed with the phrase farzi patrakar because that’s what we’d eventually become.
Though we are at a point of information overload, there is hardly any mechanism to sift through this ocean of knowledge and find more relevant and authentic information. This article is meant to give you a very basic but comprehensive checklist to spot real journalism.
A true journalist will always seek as many perspectives as possible. It is not limited to just the two opposing sides but should give you a glimpse of all the stakeholders involved in an issue. There should ideally be far less narration/spoon-feeding and much more direct quotes from concerned parties themselves. The journalist should give due context to the information but never draw conclusions for readers, unless it is clearly labelled as a commentary/opinion piece like this one is.
Also, a more worrying trend and a major red alert is when a journalist tries to direct conversations to get the answers they desire or will sell more. The privacy of subjects must be respected at all times.
Did you know that news reports are eligible to be considered as evidence before a legal court because they are supposed/believed to have been thoroughly researched and investigated? But since 24×7 news channels have replaced the daily newspaper trend, it is clear that there is not as much “breaking news” as the channels claim.
In the race to bring out as much breaking/entertaining news as possible, many media houses compromise on research and fact-checking, thereby spreading fake news; alarming audiences through misleading headlines and creating unnecessary animosity among communities. Daily debates are reduced to the easiest and highly saleable “us vs them” gamble.
All news must explicitly clarify its relevance against a cultural, geographical and political backdrop; otherwise, the news becomes misleading. It is advised that a local person be hired for reporting specific events. In an interesting class activity, we picked articles from mainstream newspapers and could hardly spot original international news reports. In journalism, such a practice is called parachute journalism.
A handful of salaried reporters cover the news without a proper understanding of the reported event’s local culture, geography or political underpinnings. As part of the social media wave, citizen journalism is both welcome and powerful to mobilise citizens for pressing concerns. Though some of its benefits also get overridden by the parallel emergence of fake news and an uninformed or preliminary understanding of issues.
All news usually follows an inverted-pyramid formula where reports are prepared in descending order of importance. The most important elements in a report appear first followed by lesser important ones. This model was originated for the ease of editing so that the last bits of reports could be blindly removed to structure a physical newspaper. Now you know how news exactly fits the newspaper.
This is a great way to spot propaganda and discreet advertisements because the more praise/importance is given to a government/policy/brand, you can be sure that it’s not journalism.
If you feel left out while reading a journalistic piece, it’s a not a job well done. Journalism should be as inclusive while keeping the ethics and standards high. There should be zero assumptions on readers’ knowledge; and jargons must be clarified with full forms, names and references provided in the first instance of its usage.
The language should be accessible, concise and simple. Complex data and statistics must be simplified using graphs and charts while not compromising transmitting any important piece of information.
A journalist may have an eye for good stories and analytical skills with all the right questions, but their storytelling mostly determines their success. In an environment of abundant content, constantly competing to grab your attention, what makes you pause and read/view/listen? It’s the way a report is presented and a story is told.
Till there was a dearth of information, information itself was enough. But mass production of books, magazines and newspapers made it a competitive environment giving birth to yellow journalism and cheesy literature. And now with the advent of social media, access to information is at its highest.
But all the tricks to seduce have been exhausted. It’s now the journalist who seduces. The women anchors in business news, sports news and weather forecasts was one such gimmick.
Journalism is a social service at the very core. It needs the grit and will to bring unheard voices to the fore. It’s not scared of any government. It does not crave for money or fame. It does not have a malafide intention to defame people, destabilise authority or divert attention.
In turn, it calls for justice by uncovering the real truth rather than the seeming truth of the matter. It’s a passionate profession where neither violence against them or their business can deter their spirit. There is no scope and space for lies or preconceptions, whereas, every sentence is embedded with intensive research.
Every new piece of information is a precious bead belonging to an unknown necklace.
About the Author: Akshita Pattiyani is an Editorial Assistant with Routledge, Taylor and Francis, an academic publishing house. She’s a graduate in mass media from Sophia College for Women, Mumbai.