Words inked onto my monthly issue of National Geographic remained just that - words. I learnt from them, looked at pictures and lost myself in a wilder, untamed side of the world. My reality and that of the grassland - or exotic wilds - were both present, but distinctly separate in their existences. We acknowledged each other, and interacted on the plane of paper, but no more.
Today, the gap was bridged. The minute whispers that fill the voids between reader and material finally had light shed upon them, with Mr. Prashant Rao lighting that torch. The global editor for The Atlantic moved beyond just the material we see on articles and tabloids, delving deeper into the microcosms of editing, filtering perspectives and absolute fairness in published opinion.
Deliberation, fairness, evaluation and fairness are all interlinked when publishing.
With an immediate introduction to the fundamental aspects of any powerful piece of media, the deeper balance that is needed to walk the tightrope between bias and artificiality was discussed. Concepts of proofreading and editing were elevated to literary fairness and linguistic precision - practices that take weeks to refine and distill into a single article. Multiple perspectives are taken in panel discussions - from legal to cultural concerns - to screen and filter media for potentially aggravating biases. Even the vocabulary is rigorously revised to ensure only the most accurate details are conveyed (and as Mr. Rao was recounting, political labels are especially screened).
Judgement is still taken further with the concepts of metered argument. One often sees articles as biased, yet an underlying truth must be made explicit. A fair evaluation may not entail a balanced set of perspectives; some arguments don’t have the required factual nor anecdotal data to validate the claim. Fundamentally, we were walked through how the news and mass media attempts to provide maximum, impartial information so we remain maximally informed and can make our own assertions.
But most were left baffled. How come there was no sensationalism? Where were the stereotypical claims of media bias and linear arguments? Why was this such a complete, mediated picture of the world and why didn’t we see journalism like this? Fortunately, our time for questions left us in peace. Mr. Rao (whether intended or not) had closed fantastically on the concepts of sensitivity, lacking demographic bases and the idea of ‘declared interest’ when writing pieces. The talk ended on a strong note of critical evaluation and elimination of author-based bias, leaving us to - ironically - introspect on what media meant to us and what we found in one of today’s most competitive occupations.
His time with us, however, was far from over. I had the privilege of listening to a student-run interview with him, combing over a niche set of questions. Here, a whole new world unfolded like a diorama in a shoebox - opening my eyes to a new landscape of writing. Topics were touched on that brought out the necessity of critical thinking, reading other literature, accepting criticism and the deep competition that submerges the vastly unseen icebergs of journalism.
Although the concept of journalism being a very experience-based and effort-intense profession was often returned to, much of the interview did highlight the true meaning of active writing and how to use the internet to its greatest degree. I also liked how Mr. Rao described the current gap between the reader and article that forms due to a limited demographic pool - again returning to the warped reality that world news is gradually bridging.
And thus my experience with an author, editor, interviewer and proofreader ended. My time was short with a journalist that touched the corners of continents, who felt the whispers of conflict in Iraq up close. However, under no circumstances could it be called unproductive - I would have used a more informative word in my article after this talk either way.
- Aditya Kolisetti