This piece was only going to be about the best of Indian journalism in 2020, and nothing else. But that was before I made a silly mistake in the video we released on Christmas Eve. My colleagues spotted it on Christmas morning and we scrambled to fix it in a couple of hours.
Later on, I realised the incident makes for a good teachable moment.
In the video titled, 'Five of the best from Indian journalism in 2020', I referred to Ranjan Gogoi as a "BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha." This was wrong.
The fact is: Gogoi is one among several MPs selected by the (BJP) government for "having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of literature, science, art and social service." In other words, describing Gogoi as a BJP MP was a bit like describing the cricketer Sachin Tendulkar as a BJP MP.
I knew better.
I think I made the mistake because The Caravan cover story on Gogoi (that I picked for my list) focused on his tenure as Supreme Court Chief Justice, and specifically on how his record suited the BJP's agenda.
The honest way to deal with mistakes
Like in every field, mistakes happen in journalism. They're usually caught and corrected before publication, but even if you have stringent checks and balances, they still happen.
So when an error gets published, the media organisation in question typically has two options:
A) Correct the mistake and pretend that it didn't happen.
B) Correct the mistake and tell the world that it happened.
In print, errors can only be corrected in the next issue of the newspaper or magazine. In television, errors can be corrected in repeat broadcasts after issuing a clarification or corrigendum. But when was the last time you remember seeing an error message in a newspaper issue or on TV news?
My guess is that while you've seen clarifications in newspapers — usually in a box tucked away in a corner — you've almost never seen anything like it on TV news. When I was at CNN-IBN, I recall it happening only once, and that too when we were forced to issue a statement.
On websites and other digital platforms however, you can make the correction on the very URL or link where the story is published.
Question is, do you go with Option A (correct and forget) or Option B (correct and declare)?
It is most tempting to go with option A. After all, only a fraction of your readers and viewers would have even realised that a mistake was made. However, it is considered good practice to go with Option B. Owning up to a mistake, it is now believed, increases the reader's trust in the news organisation. (And we all know that publishers can use some of that trust.)
This practice came into being sometimes in the mid-2000s. The Guardian was probably a leader in this movement under the leadership of readers' editor Ian Mayes and editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger. Rusbridger, who retired in 2015 writes:
So in keeping with best practices, I tweeted my video on Twitter with the error messages. I'm doing the same in the description field of the YouTube video. (There is no permanent home for the videos.)
"Mayes was invaluable in helping devise systems for the 'proper' way to correct the record. A world in which…you were 'never long for wrong' posed the question of whether you went in for what Mayes termed 'invisible mending'. Some news organisations would quietly amend whatever it was that they had published in error, no questions asked. Mayes felt differently: the act of publication was something on the record. If you wished to correct the record the correction should be visible."
If there was a text piece, the story would have ended with something like this: "In an earlier version of this piece, Ranjan Gogoi was referred to as a BJP MP. The error has been corrected." (Next time you notice one of these lines, remember that this is standard practice.)
Now on to the main course.
5 Best of Indian Journalism in 2020
In 2020, there were hundreds of instances of outstanding reporting. So how then did I reduce the list to just five? I explain the methodology in the video, but let me just say it was ultimately a personal and subjective list.
I urge you to watch the video, because these journalists deserve every bit of recognition and support that they can get. But if you're pressed for time, here's the list. (I say why I chose them in the video).
2. Scroll.in's reporting of the Delhi violence, titled A Silent Crackdown, by Arunabh Saikia and Vijayta Lalwani. (Special mention: Supriya Sharma's reporting of the plight of the hungry during the lockdown.)
3. Two cover stories of The Caravan magazine that exposed how the judiciary has transformed in the last few years: Arshu John's cover story on Ranjan Gogoi in Feb 2020 and Atul Dev's cover story on Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in October 2020.
4. Outlook Magazine's issue titled She, the Dalit on 19th October on the Hathras rape and murder.
Note: This piece was originally published on our Substack website.
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