Confessions of a teenage drama queen

Right, so my post refers to this article, written about this event. (see also this). It’s fairly obvious from the comments section of the article that I felt rather strongly about the way it was written, because it represented very poor journalism on various grounds. Rather than go point by point on the issues I had with the article (I tried starting the post that way, but boy did it get too long), I’ve decided to approach it from another angle.

Before I do that, let me start by saying I did not agree at all with the policy in question. Refusing entry — based on clothing, especially if that clothing has cultural or religious significance — to a networking event, isn’t right. I don’t know if the venue should have been different, or something. To be honest, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword: the law attempts to protect the culture and us, as humans, want to be treated equally and not denied entry to networking events.

If you don’t know them already, allow me to introduce you to the Society of Professional Journalists. I’ll let you read on-line what the organization stands for, but I’m going to bring up, in detail, their code of ethics.

Preamble
Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society’s principles and standards of practice.

via spj.org

It’s straightforward enough. You can argue that it’s a US-based organization, but believe me when I say these code of ethics pass around as a great framework in journalistic circles.

Let’s delve right in. I’ve highlighted just the pertinent points.

Seek Truth and Report It
Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Journalists should:
  • Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.

The writer left out the fact that the source in the article actually made it in to the event (after removing her scarf). That changes the feel of the article altogether. The writer states that she did not have that information at the time of writing the article. Eh? She interviewed the source either during the event or after it. The source had already gotten in at the point.

More importantly, the writer intentionally left out the fact that she herself had been denied entry. Massive whoa, in my opinion.

  • Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.

She posted the organizer’s twitter post. Yay. She claims she contacted the organizers. I have it from the organizers (and it’s evident from one of the comments) that

  1. she did not contact them during or after the incident
  2. they would have let her in to the event had she just contacted them during the event itself since all organizers were available (surprise, surprise)

I also know for a fact — I heard this myself on the radio the day before — that the organizers announced they were having issues with the hotel about letting people with kanduras in. It was a hotel policy (and common for this region for a place serving alcohol). People may have missed out on that, but it was her job to verify that this has indeed been announced before she wrote about it.

  • Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.

I know, I know, the headline could go either way. But to me, the headline questioned the authenticity of the event itself. Well first, that is not under question in the article at all. I was at the event. Two, she never made it in to find out?

  • Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
  • Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.

I’m clubbing these two together since they don’t exactly go on the article, but they do go on her responses during the comments. Moving on.

Minimize Harm
Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect. Journalists should:
  • Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.

No real bearing on the post itself, but you know, I thought I should put that out there. But wait, here’s my favorite part.

Act Independently

guffaw

Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know. Journalists should:
  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

Right, who wants to go first? All through the comments, the writer continued to argue that by a) not mentioning that she had been refused entry and b) sticking to a what happened-quote-response format, there had been no compromise.

Dear writer, read this about three times first. Now I’ll say it again. By being a victim of the incident, you now have a conflict of interest, and are directly associated with the issue at hand, thereby compromising integrity of the article. This is not a point of discussion. This is a fact. She could not, could not, write the article. Period.

What’s more, she intentionally left out the part about being refused entry herself. Intentionally. (She says she did so, so that the article could be unbiased. Duh..what now?)

Be Accountable
Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other. Journalists should:
  • Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
  • Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.

So she allowed us to comment. But she didn’t take it as a dialog. She kept telling everyone there had been no bias, asking us to point out the offending comment in the article. (My gawd woman, you could not write the article itself, at all. How are you not getting this?)

  • Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.

Hah. Yeah. That.

  • Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
  • Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

Yea well. I’ve put that up there, but I realize that point one is useless since she can’t see it herself. And that fact makes point two moot.

via spj.org

Soon after my comments on the article, I was contacted by one the organizers. Why? Because they were upset that their hard work had been put to shame. More importantly, because they had not even been contacted about their response to the accusations in the article. Or during the event to see if the issue could be resolved.

It’s a trivial issue you say? Actually, I don’t think so. Sure, the accusations laid on a media company for a networking event are hardly life-endangering. But the core principle is the same — this was pathetic journalism. Arguing that at Oxford (which doesn’t have a journalism program I understand), she was taught that creative writing spices up journalism makes this even more laughable. They’re separate things. I would know. I’ve worked in journalism. I studied creative writing.

She then turned around to say well, it was an entertainment piece. What? Really? Because it reads like it was meant to be a news article. She said so herself at the start.

I could really go on and on. No, really. I had at least five additional points in my original blog post. The article was terribly executed, but more importantly, horrendously skewed. I’ve found 12 points of issue with an ethics code for journalists. TWELVE. sigh

For the record, I’m not in this for the publicity (I’m not posting this on twitter since this isn’t about attracting attention), or to attack anyone personally. I do not know the writer, directly or indirectly. But I’ve looked her up. And I’ve learnt that she actually serves as a business development executive for the Web site in question, and will be speaking about the future of journalism at a panel next week.

I’ll conclude with a line I haven’t used in a while.

I weep for the future.

Note: Just to put it out there, I’m not making these arguments without some background. I’ve written news stories, opinion pieces, copy-edited, done entertainment pieces and served as editor-in-chief, spanning three years. Sure, you can argue that it was a college newspaper, but I’ll argue back that it was a weekly 28- to 36-page hard work per week, with no funding provided by the University at all (we did this to maintain unbiased reporting about the Univeristy). We were a recipient of the ACP Pacemaker finalist award in 2004 during my stay there — an award conferred that year to 25 newspapers among the 1000s around the country — and we followed the AP Styleguide. I could go on, but suffice to say we weren’t just kidding around.

I will also add here that we were a member of various news organizations, including the Society of Professional Journalists.

MAJOR EDIT, May 23: Surprise, Surprise. Upon visiting the article today, I learnt that some later comments have now been deleted. I didn’t save the article (yes seriously, who’d want to preserve that anyway), so all I was able to compare are screenshots of the current article and a cached copy from Google. So much for the “Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant” I mentioned earlier.

Voila my findings:

Chirag Desai @Chirag