08. The truth…s

Informing is educating. The information given should be precise. If it’s not, the information is lacking, and it’s not truthful. Informing is bringing context. If this context distorts the information, it’s manipulating. A journalist’s first commandment is to bring honest news. 

Respect the truth

Respecting the truth is scrupulously examining the facts. The facts, even if you’re present when they occur, can be deceiving. You should take time to understand what you’re seeing so as not to make false interpretations. For eg: in the street, I see a man hitting another man. It seems to be clear : I’m seeing n aggressor and a victim. But isn’t there something else, beyond the appearances ? 

The identifying process

There’s a methodical process to follow to see the truth in what you see and relate it as faithfully as possible.

When you’re on the scene :

  • Keep in mind you’re only seeing fragments of the truth.
  • Wonder about the true meaning of what you’ve seen.
  • Confront your interpretation with other witnesses (“Did you see what I saw? I’m not quite sure… What did you see ?”).
  • Put the facts in context.
  • Put the facts in their continuity.
  • Don’t pick and choose, truncate or interpret the facts.
  • Get your article proofread to make sure it’s understandable and not misleading. 

When you’re not on the scene :

  • Make sure the testimonies are believable.
  • Fact check the witnesses’ claims.
  • Ask officials for their point of view.
  • Be cautious in your writing “According to the police…” ; “According to this witness…”.

Look for the truth

When personal or collective interests stand in the way of the truth, it’s your civic duty as a journalist to find it. But looking for the truth doesn’t mean you should use any and all means available. Respecting privacy and human dignity are keystones of journalism. Besides, in public interest affairs, looking for the truth is a legitimate goal, but a journalist is neither a cop nor a judge. His means of investigations are limited. He should know it and accept it.

When somebody deliberately prevents you from finding the truth, ask for transparency.

  • Write a mail asking for answers.
  • Tell your readers about your hardships.
  • Keep a planner of your researches.
  • Keep proofs that you mean well.
  • Admit your mistakes.
  • Correct them.

Don’t become obsessive

Sometimes, finding the truth becomes in obsession, especially when many people/things stand in your way. The need to find it can become risky: what if, once discovered, it’s not what the readers were waiting for ? You might distort it. Such a risk most often exists when the journalist forgets that he must be impartial and privileges a hypothesis. If he only writes about the facts he’s discovered in his article when they confirm his hypothesis, it’s dishonest. There’s no absolute truth.