Trinidad and Tobago’s news media has a serious credibility problem.
There I said it. I’ve been meaning to get that off my chest.
As a recent journalism school graduate, who came home looking for a job, it’s depressing to see that so many of the articles printed in our local newspapers show that our reporters lack basic journalistic training. I have no idea what the criteria is for becoming a newsperson in Trinidad and Tobago, but the admission standards seem to be abysmally low.
It might seem that I’m being overly harsh, and the truth is, I am. As a journalist and consumer of news, I find it depressing that so many of us can clearly see the behind-the-scenes machinations and motivations of the “reporting” in our papers, comment on it, and allow it to continue.
Our news media has no journalistic authority, because it has no credibility. Articles are poorly written, badly researched, filled with insinuations, rife with grammatical problems, and often include unverified information. All cardinal sins of journalism. SINS!
Have you ever tried to proofread any of our newspapers? It seems as though their editors haven’t either. There is literally no other explanation for such shoddy work. Full stops (or periods for our American readers) belong at the end of sentences, not in the middle, and journalists generally frown upon excessive use of the passive voice. If I can’t get through an article, without becoming distracted by poor grammar and syntax, there is a problem. And those rules extend to social media as well. If a certain news network with a digit in its logo cannot take the time to ensure that their Facebook posts are grammatically sound, why should I take them seriously, as a source of news, when they have demonstrated such an incredible lack of attention to detail?
Back in May, news broke that employees of the Trinidad Express had been detained in connection with a robbery. Obviously, the story was big news, and was widely discussed in social media networks. Being abroad at the time and wanting to know more, I clicked through to the Trinidad Guardian article that had been linked in my newsfeed. To my dismay, the article was less than satisfactory.
As delicious as it may be to write about the employees of a major, rival publication being detained for a major offence, the Guardian’s responsibility as a newspaper was to accurately and objectively report on the situation. Phrasing like “In a shocking twist of fate”, “reliably informed” and “It is also believed” have no place in a news article. Why are you editorializing, when you should be reporting the facts? Reliably informed by whom? Who also believes the information you’re about to present to your readers?
Ironically, the Express’s report was for once, excellently written. Never mind that it conspicuously refrained from mentioning that the subjects of the story were in fact their own employees.
Gaffes like these detract from a publication’s credibility. How can I take the Guardian’s reporting of the incident seriously, when I can practically feel their glee emanating off the screen? And I am supposed to simply not notice that the Express failed to acknowledge their employees? This was a situation that called for transparency, and neither newspaper provided it.
The news media’s responsibility is to its readers. Its responsibility is to keep the nation informed about the facts, not to publish gossip and innuendo. I look at some of the headlines that ‘grace’ our papers, and I just laugh, because the complete lack of responsibility in reporting is incredibly troubling. The lack of concern for the privacy of our citizens is troubling.
Our newsmen also need to recognize the difference between a free press and an open press. A free press essentially means you are free to publish anything you feel like, barring libel. By contrast, an open press means that everyone gets a chance to speak his/her piece. If one party makes allegations against another, the offended party must be given equal opportunity to respond. Now, there is nothing wrong with a publisher having a certain political view, or even with making that view known to his readers, but it is another thing entirely to present yourself as an objective news source, all the while having ulterior motives for your coverage.
A specific grievance that I have with our daily newspapers and nightly news is the lack of vetted sources. When it comes to reporting the news, not everyone’s opinion is equal. Depending on their standing in society, certain people inherently have more credibility than others. We need to make more of an effort to find them. You wouldn’t ask the doubles man in Cunupia to explain global warming because he is not an environmentalist. Why then would you ask a nurse to explain the economy? When it comes to being a source of news, credibility is something you EARN. News reports are not avenues for the average Boyo and Carla to soapbox their misguided views. I don’t want to see another news report citing a construction worker’s advice on matters of public policy. Go to the experts.
Minister of National Security, Jack Warner, recently made international news for making comments that he would instruct the Police Service not to release crime statistics to journalists in order to discourage would-be criminals. Logic fail aside, one of the other points that the Minister made was that our papers sensationalize crime stories, and on that issue I have to agree.
Our daily papers have a nasty habit of indulging a little too heavily in sensationalism. Whether the topic be crime or politics, the headlines are incendiary, inflammatory and oftentimes outright libellous. I have seen headlines that would result in serious lawsuits in the US. It is professionally irresponsible to print defamatory statements or make serious allegations, without even a cursory nod at proper verification of sources, and newspapers that indulge in that nonsense should be held criminally liable.
As a nation, we need to hold our local news media to a higher standard, and demand that we get the fact and only the facts, so that we can form our own opinions about the things that happen in our country. We need to reject biased reporting and sensationalized headlines. We need to demand that our news media elevates us, informs us and educates us, instead of dragging us into illiteracy.
Image credit: thisistrinidad.wordpress.com
Catherine Young is a serious journalist in the same way that Bridget Jones is a serious journalist. When not obsessing about being a singleton, Catherine is pursuing her love of fashion and photography. Follow her at on Twitter @promiscuouslola.