This week, let’s talk about transparency in journalism. Have you read our pieces and felt upset at us for reporting on certain events? This piece is for you!
Ah, DU, you’ve dealt with us for more than 15 years now. It’s only fair I let you in on an inside joke DU Beat has: “you know you’ve written a good report if everyone involved is mad at you.” You would be shocked to know that most of our dispute based reports generate criticism from all parties involved, usually because we didn’t blatantly favour them. To us that shows quality and unbiased reporting – the hallmark of a well written report!
When you read a good DU Beat investigative or report, you’ll notice there is an abundance of operating words like “alleged”, “reported” and “claimed”. “The students alleged that the administration allegedly turned them away and claimed that their requests were denied.” is a sentence you may very well see us write in an article one day. Now, this is not because we simply love using these words to mirror national newspapers. In fact – as most of Delhi University’s journalism students will tell you – the overuse of such words largely stems from basic journalistic ethics.
You see, when it comes to investigative pieces or reports on different events, we are not always present at the scene to have a firsthand account of what happened. Our knowledge of what may have transpired in the situation we’re reporting on largely comes from a variety of quotes from people that were present during these events – sometimes even at fests that we happen to be covering. But if we weren’t there, how could we possibly know if what we are told is the entire truth? Moreover, in cases of disputes and arguments, how could we possibly know which party’s version of events is the truth? Since we obviously can’t blindly trust the words of everyone we speak to, the use of these operating words becomes necessary.
It is important for us as an organisation to make it perfectly clear that the narrative of events we talk about is not ours but made up of claims from other people who do not represent DU Beat. To our readers, it is important that we clarify: the news does not always know the truth, it simply tells you what people involved say is the truth. Once we make this distinction between our opinion and narratives offered by third parties clear, we run into another obstacle. To explain this, let’s take the example of a dispute between a certain college society’s members and the college faculty that was covered by DU Beat in the past.
Our use of “alleged” and “claimed” upset the society members because we would not support them publicly and offer their cause credibility – something we would never do due to ethics. On the other hand, the college faculty was upset at our reporting since despite our attempts to make it clear that these views were not our own, they believed that we had publicly supported the students instead of supporting the faculty. We were essentially receiving podcast-length voice notes and calls from both sides for days! Annoying, yes, but it was a good sign that our piece was clearly not favouring any side over the other.
Amidst such calls and comments on our Instagram like “DU Beat is supporting/excusing the students (or administration, depending on whose side they’re on) blindly”, it feels like people underestimate the neutral reader. The reader is not so easily influenced. We do not want to tell you what to think of the situations we cover. We may make mistakes occasionally, but the goal remains to depict a fair and unbiased view of the situation. Processing the information we provide and creating your own opinions is something we do not hold any influence over.
That is not to say that we have never picked sides. Most recently, DU Beat as an organisation took a very vocal stance in favour of the students of IPCW after the infamous invasion of their campus during their annual fest. While our reporting and coverage remained neutral and used the same operating words, we were horrified at the events that unfolded and thus considered it important to put out a statement of support. We have our own opinions and sympathies as well, but as far as investigative articles and reports are concerned, after reading them the only opinions you should see clearly are your own. In other words, let’s not shoot the messenger.
Image source: Santa Cruz Sentinel