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Checklist: How To Spot True Journalism

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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 Balanced View
media bias
An example of biased journalism. Credit: Kroordarshan/क्रूरदर्शन

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.

  • Intensive Research and Fact-Checking

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.

  • Setting a Cultural, Geographical and Political Background

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.

  • An Inverted-Pyramid Formula

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.

  • A Duty to Educate
newspaper reports
Times of India front page coverage of hate crime in the U.S. vs India. Credit: altnews

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.

  • Exceptional Story Telling

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.

  • Ethics of Journalism

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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