Zero. That’s the number to keep in mind. Because zero is the number of people in the fact checking department across most mainstream newsrooms in India. Today.
It is a number that isn’t talked about much. It certainly should be.
“Let’s do this over a call,” said Sukumar.
When I wrote to him, I had a simple question. Whatever happened to fact checking in the country? It is like, this bit of journalistic process never existed.
Sukumar Ranganathan is the Editor of Mint, the business daily published by Hindustan Times. In a career spanning three decades, Ranganathan has worked at some of the largest media companies in India. Before Mint, he was the *Managing Editor of Business Today. And he started his career at The Hindu Business Line, the financial daily published by Kasturi and Sons Limited, the publishers of The Hindu. “Historically, we have never had fact checking in India,” he said. “No one has had the money to invest in a four or five member team of fact checkers.”
“But this does not mean that fact checking does not happen. The page one desk has the dual role of editing and fact checking. Most of the page one stories at Mint, at least two people take a look at it. People check data, facts, and names. We, of course, don’t fact-check quotes. Sometimes, especially when quotes are anonymous, our spider senses start tingling and we ask the reporter for names of the sources—which, according to our code, they have to share with the editors when asked. We don’t ask all the time—only when we feel something is wrong. Is this fool proof? Scientific? No. It depends on the spider sense of individuals. The only reason I don’t have a fact checking team is because of the budget.”
Money is the root of all problems. When it comes to journalism and fact checking, it exacerbates.
“When I started tracking the stories, I saw there is no sourcing, no attribution”
Jency Jacob is the managing editor of BOOM*. A media website which describes itself as India’s first independent online resource to cross check urban legends, myths, and rumours. Another matter altogether that BOOM wasn’t born for fact checking. In its earlier, more prosaic avatar it used to tell stories, using video as a medium. Online. That idea went some distance but in September last year, Govindraj Ethiraj, the founder of Ping Network, the company which runs BOOM decided that fact checking is the way forward. Ethiraj hired Jacob for the job.
We are sitting in a small conference room at BOOM’s office, in Mumbai. It is early in the afternoon, in August.