Wednesday April 30 2014

Our commitment to readers: Doing quality journalism

By Malcolm Gibson

Since my arrival a bit over nine weeks ago, I have instituted a new scheme for how we do things. One word that keeps coming up is “transparency”.

It is a commitment I made to the staff – and I make to everyone who interacts with the Daily Monitor as a source or as a reader: We will be transparent in our pursuit of doing “quality journalism”.

One step was to reorganise the entire newsroom to streamline responsibilities and increase collaboration. Readers and sources may not see or feel that, directly, but it is having an effect in how we do stories, as well as in what stories we do.

As importantly, we have drawn up a series of commitments to which we have all agreed. The first of those – a reporter/editor story checklist – was developed with the help of select senior reporters. Here’s what emerged:

Reporter/Editor Story Checklist
The following is a guide and a goal. All principles should be applied during the reporting, writing and editing processes.
• Are all names and places correct, including spelling?
• Are quotes exactly as they were said and true to the speaker and the topic?
• Are the numbers correct? Are any missing?
• Were all the stakeholders contacted? If not, why not (and should it be noted in the story)?
• Is there any question we should have asked or any fact omitted that is key to the story?
• Is the story balanced, in other words favouring no one side over the other?
• Does it provide diverse viewpoints (and not just both ends of the spectrum, but across the spectrum)?
• Is it written with the proper tone, avoiding superlatives?
• Is it written in a way that treats everyone equally?
• Does it provide perspective? In other words, does it properly “place” the story/topic regarding what’s happened before and after, or in relation to this event or other events, for the reader to have full value?
• Does it let readers know “why” this is important to them – why they should “care”? (This is particularly important in political stories.)
• Does it need an “outside” perspective – a non-stakeholder, someone who can more sharply focus the event or the people in it without favour?
• Is all the information credibly sourced (see “And:” below) and, more importantly, able to be verified? If not, is it clear in the story what is and what is not? If challenged, will the story and the facts withstand scrutiny when universally accepted journalist standards are applied?
• If not verifiable, should the fact – or story – be published (or held until verification is secured)?
• Does it contain words such as “reportedly”, “allegedly”, “apparently,” “we understand” and similar words in place of proper attribution?
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I am sharing this with you, our readers and sources, as part of that effort to be “transparent”. I also am sharing it – as I will other correspondence and interactions with staff – so that you can help see to it that we are holding ourselves to what we have committed: doing quality journalism in our pursuit of becoming the most-respected media operation in Africa.

Mr Gibson is the Executive Editor of Monitor Publications Ltd.