The elements of engaged journalism

At a time of digital disruption and institutionalised misinformation campaigns, an idea that has caught the imagination of journalists is ‘engaged journalism’. The meaning of engaged journalism is described in journalist Michael R. Fancher’s excellent essay, “The Ethics of Engaged Journalism”. He forcefully argues that “journalism has little purpose if it is not trusted by the public it is meant to serve, so public engagement and public trust are inseparable in the networked world of digital journalism.” He writes: “Engaged Journalism’s mission is to make journalism more open, accessible, collaborative, and participatory while maintaining the highest standards of accuracy, fairness, clarity, and impartiality. Engaged Journalism is consistent with and supports the historical mission of professional journalism — public good, self-governance, and a better life for all.”

Engaging with readers

At The Hindu we constantly explore the idea of engaged journalism. The opening of our editorial meetings to readers is a part of this exercise. Last Tuesday, 15 readers attended the noon editorial meeting and the evening news meeting. Kidambi Narayanan, a reader of this paper for nearly four decades, said he sees a decline in flair for sports writing. He felt that the editorial, “Charging Chidambaram” (October 21), on the INX Media case was partisan and could have been avoided. Mr. Narayanan was also unhappy with the reportage on the Ayodhya verdict, particularly the explainer by K. Venkataramanan that pointed out that the unimpeded right in the outer courtyard of the site in effect won the whole site for Hindus. The court held that Muslims had failed to prove an exclusive right even in the inner courtyard, where the mosque was located, the report said.

Sports Editor K.C. Vijaya Kumar explained the impact of live broadcasting on sports reporting. He also pointed out that since the number of pages in the newspaper has been reduced, more reports are now squeezed into fewer pages. In this process of compression, sometimes flourishes in writing are removed and only bare bones information about events are presented, he said. Editor Suresh Nambath explained the rationale behind the editorial on Mr. Chidambaram. He spoke of how individual freedom is central to democracy and added that it is not right to view the editorial from the prism of partisan politics. Mr. Venkataramanan explained that his report on Ayodhya was the essence of the Supreme Court judgment. Not reporting it would be failing the readers, he said.

After the meeting, Mr. Narayanan wrote a letter thanking the newspaper for providing an opportunity to discuss his viewpoints without any reservations. His views were endorsed by Srravya. C, a young researcher of news and technology affiliated with the International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore. She wrote: “Thank you for providing the opportunity to attend and understand the editorial work at The Hindu, spending quality time with us and answering a lot of our questions. The interaction not only helped me better appreciate the news-making processes but also understand the historical background and contemporary political economy of news.”

Antidotes to misinformation

Participating readers wanted to know why The Hindu decided to open its editorial meeting to its readers. The main reason was that we realised that vested interests are not only undermining journalism but also vitiating the information public sphere with vitriol and rhetoric. Whitney Phillips, in a powerful article in Columbia Journalism Review (“The Toxins We Carry”), argues: “We reach for facts as our antidote to misinformation, false and misleading stories that are inadvertently spread; or disinformation, false and misleading stories that are deliberately spread; or malinformation, true stories that are spread in order to slander and harm. But the problem plaguing digital media is larger than any of these individually; it’s that the categories overlap, obscuring who shares false information knowingly and who shares it thinking it’s true.”

In this context, we felt that readers should know the editorial processes that guide a newspaper and how it is different from the opinions that populate the social media space. We recognise that journalism and democracy are intertwined and credible information makes our democracy vibrant.

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 12:00:30 AM |

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