BEING ACCOUNTABLE TO READERS
Wherever they have the privilege of being able to do their job as a “truth-teller” in complete freedom, in the name of people’s right to truthful information, journalists never refrain from holding others accountable: elected officials, public authorities, government bodies, organisations, associations, companies, clubs, etc. In exchange, it is natural for journalists to be accountable to others for their professional practices and output.
ANSWERING MAIL FROM READERS IS NOT A CHORE, BUT A BONUS
Critical readers, like any customer, are, as a matter of principle, always right. Even, and especially, if they read a text incorrectly, misread the author’s intentions, misunderstand or misinterpret the text, they are entitled to expect courtesy and respect from journalists that they question about things they publish. Experience shows that if journalists accept criticism and respond in good faith, readers are understanding, even conciliatory, to the point of admitting, at times, that they “did not understand”. Having a dialogue with readers always adds value to journalism and, for journalists, is an instructive subject for reflection. The easiest way to gain readers when running a newspaper is to increase the space reserved for the publication of readers’ mail.
THE RIGHT OF RESPONSE IS A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT
Of all the rights that readers have, the right to respond to a personal challenge is the most sacred. Nothing, neither legislation nor arguments, must prevent the publication of the response of a reader quoted or referenced in an article. Such a response must, of course, be proportionate to the article in question. Its length, content, tone and form can be debated, discussed and negotiated. The fact of having been excessively challenged does not give the right to excessively challenge in turn. However, in any event, nothing and no one should prevent the publication of a legitimately claimed “right of reply”. There is nothing preventing the journalist from then freely discussing it with other readers. A word of warning, however, as most readers know the difference between good faith and bad faith…
CORRECTING ERRORS IS A MUST
There can be no better evidence of good faith on the part of journalists, in the eyes of their readers, than the unprompted correction of their own mistakes. A newspaper that never publishes corrections is not an honest newspaper. All journalists sometimes make mistakes in their writing. While some inaccuracies are inconsequential, other errors can have serious consequences. The mandatory correction is one of the intangible rules respected in major newspapers. To make this “service” easily accessible to the reader, corrections are usually published in the same corner of the same page.
Tomorrow, in this corner, I will publish the following correction, in two sentences that are as sober as possible, without making any excuses: “Contrary to what we wrote in our report on the islanders disgruntled over the transfer of the Dosh Group to Moray, yesterday, on page 3, it was not the mayor, Youenn Lannig, who issued the construction permit to Mark Pesos, but one of his deputies, Yann Bohec. We ask our readers to forgive us for this confusion.”
INTRODUCING A MEDIATOR? YES, BUT…
Readers have become so valuable to the print media that more and more newspapers now entrust a “qualified” person (an “ombudsman” or “mediator”) with the task of publicly debating with their readers and responding to their objections to editorial content. Readers’ letters generally provide “educational” material for self-criticism once a week. However, this desire for transparency does not produce the same results everywhere. It all depends on the “qualification” of the “qualified” person chosen to take on this role of intermediary or buffer. The person must have been a journalist, and must know all the tricks of the trade, in order to perform this role with the appropriate legitimacy.