03 Nov 2020

Journalists must have diverse sources, says writer Kamala Thiagarajan

“The main objective of journalism is to give voice to the voiceless,” said freelance journalist and writer Kamala Thiagarajan.

Addressing IIJNM students online on November 3, 2020, she called for incorporating diverse sources to have a balance in news stories. This balance is not always seen in digital journalism.

She gave the example of the BBC’s 50:50 Equality Policy, adopted in 2015, and said it was a step towards giving women a voice in journalism.

She described journalism today as an “interconnected, global news organisation”. Journalists no longer have to work only in local dailies; they can easily approach news giants beyond borders to work remotely. Unlike earlier days when approaching media houses in other countries was a painstaking task, journalists today do not face the same hurdle, thanks to the Internet. However, with an increasing number of people relying on apps and news websites for information, journalists have a greater responsibility.

Thiagarajan said journalists need to take responsibility for their work. She gave the example of The Atlantic retracting a fabricated feature. Underlining the importance of being truthful, she said: “If you do wrong, or if you plagiarise, you become the story.”

With the presence of comments sections on websites, journalism has become a real-time affair. “Technology has changed the way journalists interact with their readers.” However, she cautioned that the comments sections can be filled with both positive and negative feedback. Journalists need to have a thick skin and not let comments affect them.

Digitisation is changing the way journalists gather information from sources. Since everything on the Internet leaves a “digital footprint”, accessing records and data has become easier. Sources can now be contacted via Skype, Zoom and WhatsApp. Hence, reporting about a remote area or finding records no longer poses a problem.

“We are reporting in a time when media is not considered a noble profession,” she observed. The Internet is destroying the objectivity required in journalism. Propaganda is disguised as information in cyberspace.

At a time when media outlets are regularly called out for fabricating news, it is all the more important to report accurately, she added.

Based in Madurai, Thiagarajan has 20 years’ experience in journalism. She has regularly written for newspapers and websites such as The New York Times, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, BBC and National Geographic. Her articles explore issues and developments in health, human rights, science, environmental policies and culture.

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