In November 2016, when it was clear Donald Trump would be the next President of the United States, there was uncertainty and apprehension among journalists on what shape journalism would take in the years he would be in the Oval Office.
Trump, in his election campaign, had been rabid in his regard for the press and journalists describing the press as “scum” and calling journalists the “lowest form of humanity”.
The question vexing the minds of journalists then became, “What do we do?”
Marty Baron, former executive editor of the Washington Post, had a succinct answer to this challenge. “The answer, I believe, is pretty simple. Just do our job. Do it as it’s supposed to be done.”
The Zimbabwe Independent celebrated its 25th year anniversary this week having hit the streets on May 10, 1996. Back then there had been just one privately-owned newspaper, the Financial Gazette, which was in the crosshairs of the establishment.
Trevor Ncube, who with colleagues went on to establish the Independent, knows the situation then very well because he had edited the Fingaz for seven years and been ignominiously spat out when the system couldn’t cow him.
The first republic was hurtling towards a one-party state under Robert Mugabe and to use one of the strongman’s favourite expressions, he “brooked no criticism” of his style of rule.
That the ZimInd, as it is known in shorthand, survived that regime and is still standing, speaks volumes of the kind of journalism it has championed over the years.
If the hurdles that the Independent faced in the past 25 years often seemed insurmountable, what with a suspicious government and an economy that on several occasions faced total collapse, the challenges of the next quarter century look daunting.
The economy still is not in the pink of health and attendant challenges are still too many. And, the world has changed dramatically. Print is fast fading away and in its place has come digital. While print was tangible in more ways than one, digital is slippery and mutates frequently like a virulent virus.
To go back to the puzzle of the pre-Trump inauguration, “What do we do?”
At the Independent we know that journalism itself hasn’t changed; what has changed are the vessels through which it is delivered. And to answer the question we will emulate Baron and say: “The answer is simple. Just do our job. Do it as it’s supposed to be done.”
But how is it supposed to be done?
We will stick with the good old ethics of the profession namely, accuracy, impartiality and fairness. We know this comes with loads of threats such attacks, imprisonment and even death, but as we say, that’s par for the course.
We live in a situation which is steeped in insular and parochial practices. Zimbabwean journalism is notorious for its polarisation; it majors mostly in personality journalism and headline-grabbing trivia. We have chosen to rise above that; instead our underlying principles are to provide reliable information for responsible public debate, holding officials to account and informing the electorate so it can make informed decisions.
All this will be done in a disinterested way, that is, without us claiming to know the truth, for, truth is a complex concept. Rather we will strive to impartially present competing truths. Impartiality means our reporting will not support one political party, religion, people or ethnic group over another. Impartiality like balance provides clear distinction between fact and opinion.
All this is hardly original; all world-class news organisations follow the same codified ethics, whether in print or digital. That’s what we’ll do in the next 25 years.