Seeking the truth - Shawn Loughlin editorial
At the risk of repeating a story I’ve told in this space before, I’ll always remember my very first day in a journalism class. It was very cinematic in that our teacher came in and addressed us as “truth seekers” before getting into the basics of the world of reporting. No doubt he did this on purpose so that years later people like me could think back to that moment and how it set the tone for their careers.
Another famous quote about journalism also comes to mind. It’s been attributed to Jonathan Foster of the Department of Journalism Studies at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom as a tenet of Journalism 101. “If someone says it’s raining and another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out the f...ing window and find out which is true.”
This brings us back to the world of truth seekers, which journalists most certainly are. There are some exceptions, of course, which sounds weird, but it’ll make more sense once you hear some examples.
Think of a court case. Both the prosecution and the defence each have their opportunity to make arguments, question witnesses and bring evidence forward. If you’re a court reporter, your job is to report the goings-on of the day. Whether a witness or a lawyer is telling the truth or not presenting the facts in an honest manner can certainly be up for interpretation. However, you can’t fact-check those witnesses live and in real time (that’s the judge’s and lawyers’ job), so the “fact” becomes that someone made a particular statement on the witness stand, which is true, whether the statement itself ends up being true or not.
If a lawyer says the evidence proves that a man killed his wife, for example, and that man insists that he didn’t, both statements cannot be true, but they need to be reported just the same as happenings of the court case.
The same, unfortunately, can be true for council meetings. Journalists are covered in their reporting of council meetings when it comes to an elected representative making an untrue statement. If a councillor states that something is true, and it turns out it isn’t, the reporter in question was simply doing his/her job by reporting on the meeting.
If we can clear things up, we will, but when it comes to fact-checking beyond the standard editing process or long-term investigations, The Citizen and other smaller news outlets simply aren’t equipped to handle that work.
Some of you may have noticed that we did have a little note in a North Huron story in which a member presented some incorrect information regarding COVID-19 vaccination. I’ve heard from some readers that they’d never seen that before, but appreciated that we did it.
We could have likely deployed such notes when we did our federal election profiles or any of the stories on the calls to remove a certain racist street name (which would then go on to print that slur several times in what would follow), but we very often just let the coverage speak for itself, for better or worse.
If my journalism school training left me with one thing it was to get the facts straight. Other things like quality and clarity of writing, structure, etc., are all very important, but the foundation upon which a news story is built is knowing that the facts are correct. People can then trust you as a reporter if they know that.
So, while we may not be able to tuck into an investigation for a year or more or fact-check every single quote, we certainly do our best to seek and present the truth, and I think The Citizen’s track record speaks for itself.