Large portions of this guide are based on the New York Times Guidelines on Integrity to avoid reinventing the wheel. Large portions of the text in Quotations, Anonymity and its Devices, Fictional Devices and Photography and Images, and Handling Conflict are taken verbatim from said document.

Our Purpose

Our goal is twofold:

We do not claim to be impartial observers; such a thing is impossible. We have skin in the game. Our interest is in promoting truth, nuance, detail and conceptual clarity of matters that affect the welfare or well-being of the general public. This often means (but is not limited to) matters of infrastructure, healthcare, environment, education outcomes, legislature, and non-trivial affairs of the body politic.

We do not strive to break news: we strive for accuracy, and to be as close to the final word on a matter as possible, in the three major languages spoken in Sri Lanka. It is better to be slow and come to the table knowing a great deal than to barge in clutching at straws.

How we approach information

Attribution to another publication, though, cannot serve as license to print rumors that would not meet our own standards. For example, if a claim is made that 50% of Sri Lankans have experienced credit card fraud, we must locate the source of the claim and examine it to understand how the claim was generated. Did the source interview every Sri Lankan? Did they (as in most commonly done with research) examine a cross-section of the Sri Lankan population? Was this cross-section demographically and geographically representative of the population of Sri Lanka? Is the cross-section actually big enough to account for outliers, statistical errors, and sampling bias?

The highest level of accuracy is generally accorded to a national census: ie: a representative sample that interviews 10% of the population of a country. However, we must be aware that even in such work, ontological errors reduce data or generate misleading results.

Take, for example, the Censuses of India conducted by the British from 1865 onwards. The British found themselves knee-deep in the task of planning and running a country that was, in reality, closer to an entire continent full of different tribes, countries and other social constructs. Starting with the North-West provinces, they began to run a systematic set of exercises to quantify India’s population, noting down everything from age to caste to religion. The British Census-takers logged over 4000 different “castes” by 1931, and then in subsequent Censuses, embarked on the process of reducing the complex and chaotic social interactions of India to a greatly simplified and inescapable 4-caste system built on the Brahmanic system. [1] [2]. Or, take Myanmar’s Census, which consistently refused to count the Rohingya.

The Yale political scientist and anthropologist James Scott describes the actions of a state, when collecting data, as a form of simplification, to make understandable what was previously unique to a particular place or community and mysterious to outsiders. [3]

These state simplifications, the basic givens of modern statecraft were . . . rather like abridged maps.  They did not successfully represent the actual activity of the society they depicted, nor were they intended to; they represented only that slice of it that interested the official observer.  They were . . . not just maps . . . [but] when allied with state power, would enable much of the reality they depicted to be remade.