We have all grown up listening to – and admiring – stories about journalists who had newsroom wars with their editors for the sake of good stories. Then what happened?

A newsroom filled with yes-people is a perfect recipe for bad journalismScreenshot
Voices Opinion Wednesday, August 14, 2019 - 19:10

A video is doing the rounds: a Kannada news channel anchor wearing a raincoat “drowning” in CGI-floods, supposedly to highlight the plight of people affected by the floods in Karnataka. Towards the end of the clip, she raises her hand – one is almost waiting for baby Baahubali to plop into her waiting arms so she can wade him to safety.

In another video, a young anchor is “fact-checking” a tweet by a parody account, with a photo of Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in the mind-numbingly famous show Game of Thrones. The anchor, on the Delhi-Mumbai based TV channel Times Now, was so serious in ‘debunking’ the ‘fake propaganda’, one wonders whether she and the entire editorial leadership of the channel has been put on an entertainment blockade for the past decade! It’s either that, or more likely – all right thinking editors in the channel forgot their spine at home.

Disclaimer: I used to work in the said English channel, several years ago and never with its current editorial head. But back then too, this particular newsroom – and several others, of course – had a problem. Too many people sitting high up in the ladder with too little courage to question and challenge what “Boss” wants.

I’m not talking about “ideology” – although their ideology did and does creep me out. I’m talking about plain old healthy confrontation in a newsroom, to shut down “ideas” that are rubbish, no matter who’s head they come out of. What happened to the courage of journalists – or is that only limited to heckling people with much less privilege in front of the power of your camera/pen/keyboard?

To be very, very fair, I have seen many journalists in every news newsroom that I’ve worked in who stood by their convictions and fought for what they believed was right – whether it’s a story or a headline. I have known and learned from editors who know where to draw the line even when they did not have the power to change the “line” that the “boss” wants. And I have also seen many – so many – of them leave the profession because the constant fight corrodes your health and well being.

But I’ve also seen journalists without any convictions to speak of, who crawl when asked to bend, who have never ever even tried to speak truth to power. I have witnessed a very very verryyyyyyy senior editor put the blame on an employee who’s just three months out of college, when “boss” wasn’t happy with some story that went on air. The call to put it on air was taken by the senior editor of course, but who cares. I have also been “called in” to a meeting for the express purpose of being humiliated because a “boss” “thought” that a story I had put up was wrong. It wasn’t, anyone who bothered to even read it fully would have known that. But not a single “senior” had the courage to say it.

That journalism in India is now a young person “fact checking” Arya Stark’s photo from a (in my opinion) rather irritating arc in her story is because of these “yes-people”, who have never in their lives wanted to confront those above them. They’re so comfortable in their cushy chairs, that even something as simple as saying – hey you know what, that’s a parody account so let’s look for something else – doesn’t occur to them. And it’s not just this newsroom – no no, this seems to be happening everywhere.

And unless this changes – unless we all decide to fight a little more and tekk-it-easy a little less – well, there are going to be no stories for journalism students and young journalists in the future about the editor who threw a tantrum to get a story right, or a bureau chief who waged a war with the desk to get her reporter’s story through.

Views expressed are extremely and completely the author’s own. 

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.