My Wednesday column fell short on explaining “rumour and gossip”

Today’s column is spurred by the spirited, to say the least, greeting I received Wednesday morning in the newsroom

Thursday May 15 2014

By Malcolm Gibson

Today’s column is spurred by the spirited, to say the least, greeting I received Wednesday morning in the newsroom. The “spirit” came from most of the reporters, none smiling, who took serious exception to my Wednesday column. And rightly so.

I’ve been pushing the importance of perspective – that all we publish have the proper perspective. I fell short of that in Wednesday’s effort.
I failed to put in perspective a comment that we had treated “rumour and gossip as fact.” I did it without clearly indicating that it was an exception, not the rule.

It has happened, but is not routine, as many seemed to think and the column likely insinuated. Further, that lack of perspective put all the responsibility on the reporter – all the reporters – and that is clearly not the case. For that, I apologise. It is a shared responsibility.

Unfortunately, that misperception became the focus, carrying us away from its true intent: what we needed to do to increase our credibility to a point whereby Monitor journalists would be able to express opinions freely in any forum. That point, given the lack of perspective, was lost to many.

They also questioned using Andrew Mwenda, founder and editorial director of The Independent and a former Monitor reporter and editor, given the polarising personality that he is, as an example.

I used Andrew simply because he had initiated a lively, insightful and thoughtful email exchange with me. Those who know him better are more qualified to make any judgements, though my interactions with him, in person and through email, provided healthy and spirited discussion, so my opinion is formed solely on those interactions.

Further to the issue of “rumour and gossip”, let me clarify: Wednesday’s column should not have used such a broad stroke of the brush in trying to paint the picture I attempted to paint about the importance of credibility.

What I tried to emphasise was that in most parts of the world, journalists present opinions but usually only after they have gained enough credibility through the quality of their reporting over time and because of the reputations of the media outlets they serve.

A great majority of those doing journalism here do so with a dedication that is parallel with the best anywhere in the world. But, for various reasons, the Daily Monitor has not kept or yet established a level of credibility, in my view, that will allow us to opine freely on issues of importance.

It’s less about individuals than about the institution.
It was my sincere attempt to show how such lapses affect credibility and, as a result, our ability to comment. That affects everyone at the Monitor, most of whom – including the innocent – were staring me down Wednesday morning.

As I reiterated, credibility is key, and any lapses, even occasional ones, chip away at that. And, for people who question our credibility, perception is truth.

We are all fallible human beings, including editors who write columns.
Nevertheless, the main point must not be lost: that we will commit ourselves, including me, to be accurate and fair and to ensure proper perspective in all we do. If we succeed, as I know we will, the public will come to know it. Then, when any of us speaks, writes or opines, that person, as well as what’s being said, will be perceived as credible, no matter the forum.

Making that happen takes time, and – as I told the “spirited” gathering Wednesday morning – we’re not there yet. But we’re getting closer.
On one point I am sure: Perceptions will change, especially when people care as much as I felt Wednesday morning from those challenging me and my words.

Mr Gibson is the Executive Editor of Monitor Publications Ltd.