Journalism = wins for the community

Journalism can make a positive difference. While the value of the free press is sometimes underappreciated by those who dismiss significant stories as “negative”, the end result of airing even an ugly truth is often a win for the community. That is how it’s supposed to work. Three stories The Royal Gazette has published in recent weeks provide nice examples.

On July 6, we ran Sam Strangeways’s story about the adverse incidents involving patients at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. The data came via a public access to information request by the reporter, filed 2½ years ago.

The first response from the Bermuda Hospitals Board was that 13 incidents had been logged between 2011 and 2015. This seemed staggeringly low when compared with international standards. So the diligent reporter pursued the full facts further with the BHB and, still not satisfied, then appealed to the Information Commissioner, who sent in an investigator. In total there were 4,090 incidents involving patients during the period in question. The BHB had previously revealed only the most serious of them.

We agreed to hold off from publishing for several days until Michael Richmond, the BHB chief of staff, was available to talk with Ms Strangeways. His reaction was refreshing.

Dr Richmond said he was concerned that there was an under-reporting of incidents at the hospital. His aim, he said, was to create a culture in which reporting of incidents was encouraged because that would lead to improvements in patient safety.

“We are an organisation that has a clear ambition to be the safest hospital we possibly can,” Dr Richmond said. “The way to do that is to interrogate your data, to share your data and to learn from your data.”

He pledged that the BHB would publish its incident statistics twice yearly on its website in future.

Great credit should go to Dr Richmond for trying to implement the power of transparency to raise standards. The tenacious reporting by Ms Strangeways shone a light on important information that had long been unavailable to the public and will only help Dr Richmond’s quest for improvement in patient care.

A win for the community.

On July 3, Fiona McWhirter’s story about the Government of Bermuda’s travel expenses website caused quite a stir. The article found at least 12 trips, going back as far as eight months, for which expenses had not been logged.

The story focused not on the amount of the expenses, but on the principle of transparency. The travel website, by its very existence, drastically reduces the chances of abuse of the public purse. The story quoted Heather Thomas, the Auditor-General, as saying: “Transparency is at the heart of how the Bermuda electorate holds public officials accountable.”

David Burt, the Premier, said there was nothing to hide and that the Government “can and will do a better job of keeping the information on the travel website updated”. He was true to his word and by the end of that week, the website had been completely updated. Credit to the Government for its rapid response.

The result is improved transparency as to how public money is spent and again a win for the community.

Another story that elicited a huge response was that of the Bascome family being given six months to leave the government land they have farmed for 50 years. Jonathan Bell’s article on June 29 quoted Richard Bascome as saying that the silence from the Government was “deafening”.

The Ministry of Public Works, having been asked for comment the afternoon before the story came out, replied on the morning of publication, declining to comment. As the story circulated on social media and the online commenters had their say, it became very clear that public opinion was solidly behind the Bascomes.

Shortly after midday, Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch did send a statement after all, making clear he was open to discussion with the Bascomes on the farm’s future. Last Friday, only two weeks after Mr Bell’s initial story had been published, Colonel Burch declared in the House of Assembly that the notice to quit had been cancelled.

Whether or not the Government would have changed its mind if the matter had not been highlighted by The Royal Gazette can never be known, but the story certainly helped to expedite what most people seemed to consider the victory of common sense.

These three stories, all of which could have been dismissed as “negative” at first glance, each produced positive results for this community. They also highlight the difference between journalism and “churnalism”, the nickname sometimes given to the rapid regurgitation of press releases, something that is difficult for modern media to completely avoid, given the public’s expectation that any development will be published instantaneously on digital news platforms.

Journalism requires diligence, tenacity, verification skills, and the trust of contacts in the community, not to mention a thick skin. Whenever we publish something that does not support their view of the world, politicians of all parties, and their supporters, routinely attack journalists as “biased” — ironic when one considers that as party members, or partisans, they themselves are biased by definition.

Governments are nervous of journalists and Donald Trump calls us “enemies of the people”. That’s no surprise when one considers one of our roles is to hold those in power to account. As United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black once famously stated: “The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”

Another attack that reporters sometimes hear is that “you have an agenda”. Indeed, we do: to share accurate information and human stories that are in and of public interest.

The pressure of turning articles around in double-quick time for tight deadlines means that mistakes will inevitably occur. When we make factual errors, we own up to them, in the form of highlighted online amendments and corrections published on page 4. We consider this to be an important part of our own credibility.

The Royal Gazette is proud of the work our journalists do in the field every day, reflecting the triumphs, tragedies and challenges of our community, and holding those in power to account.

Long live journalism.

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Published Jul 18, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Jul 18, 2018 at 8:10 am)

Journalism = wins for the community

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