“Anger over ‘fake news’ can deter journalists from admitting and correcting their mistakes”
Photo credit: Sky News. Pictured: Alex Crawford
When Sky News special correspondent Alex Crawford was making a documentary about the illegal plastic market in Kenya, she received a reference to an illegal plastic bag factory in Nairobi. Her team rushed to the address, accompanied by security guards, to protect her from these potentially armed criminals.
She pounded on the metal doorway, blood pulsing through her veins. As soon as the gate opened, the crew marched in and asked to see the illegal plastic bags.
However, all they could find was perfectly legal plastic pipes. You got it completely wrong – wrong place, wrong time, wrong company. They had bad information.
We must vigorously maintain our independence and defend our objectivity.
Despite the embarrassment, the journalists decided to include the footage of the fiasco in the documentary.
“We want to convince our viewers that we are real,” said Crawford in her closing keynote at the Newsrewired conference about her efforts to make reporting more transparent again.
“In a world in which everything is questioned and doubted, we must vigorously defend our independence and defend our objectivity.”
There is a huge difference between a real mistake and a manipulation. The industry has reached a point where any social media user can point a finger at legitimate journalism and call it “fake news”, no matter how much factual and cross-checking an article is.
Mistake vs. Dishonesty
Crawford is a familiar face at Sky after working in Turkey and running Sky News offices in South Africa, the Gulf and India. She began her career as a reporter for a small local newspaper, the Wokingham Times, in southern England. There, too, she had to quickly face the anger of the readers when the copy she submitted contained typing errors.
“Sometimes it felt like each of those 13,000 readers would call to complain or comment on my writing, my choice of story, what I missed, what I did wrong, my spelling,” she says. This was the reality of a reporter in a small town where you would meet your readers in a pub or on errands.
“They felt like they owned you,” adds Crawford, “and they were right. It was a heavy price to pay for doing wrong, mostly in face-to-face humiliation. Nobody wanted to get it wrong. But we got it. And when we did that we put our hands up and there was an excruciating apology in the paper.
“Journalists get it wrong, we are human,” she continued. “We make mistakes, but that’s not fake news. Journalism is not easy and we often have to deal with people who are not telling the truth. But we can’t let all the fuss over claims that the whole mainstream media kind of are involved. ” A conspiracy to spread fake news prevents us from admitting our mistakes, but there is a risk that it will happen. “
It’s not just about the public, the journalism industry has changed over the decades. Copies filled out by us are no longer checked in detail before going to press – when there is news, journalists often report live on Twitter.
And with speed, there are often more errors. When Crawford covered the murder trial of South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, she was so focused on speed and accuracy that she didn’t care about the occasional typo in her live tweets. But it was important to the 24/7 news channel viewers who complained to the editor about their spelling.
We have to fight for our industry and the good reputation of our profession.
But just as journalists do not try to deliberately misspell, very few try to deliberately mislead. And when that happens, as in the case of BBC journalist Martin Bashir, who cheated to secure the famous interview with Princess Diana, the reputational damage to the media industry is immeasurable.
Crawford said that while Bashir’s behavior was unacceptable, the BBC’s cover-up was even worse. The scandal encouraged the “BBC haters” who launched a brutal attack on the station disregarding hundreds of honest and committed journalists.
“When we can’t see and show the difference [between mistakes and dishonesty]How can we expect this from our viewers or readers? “
Whatever the backlash and conspiracies, most journalists spend their careers heavily on truth, accuracy, and honesty.
Unfortunately, social media are both magnifiers and amplifiers when it comes to slip-ups, so journalists need to bring transparency back as their top priority.
That’s why Crawford and her team created a documentary series called Hotspots: On The Front Line, in which two reporters show those who doubt the authenticity of the news the bare reality of the work on the ground. The documentary about illegal plastic in Kenya was part of this series.
“I want a call to arms at a time when we have to fight for our industry and the good reputation of our profession.
“And most importantly, we have to make sure that we are doing it right and doing it as transparently and authentically as possible.”
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