July 16, 2013

Something about sloppy journalijam

When it comes to the highest standards of journalism, The Hindu doesn't spare even itself. P Sainath's followers must surely be remembering his brilliant criticism of Times of India over the latter's news-cum-advertisement about the company selling Bt Cotton seeds. The Hindu Readers' Editor AS Panneerselvan is being just as intolerant in his columns about his paper's sometimes shoddy approach.

His comments in today's 'Corrections & Clarifications' section made me get up and write this. Totally worth a read:
"A note from the Readers' Editor: On July 11, 2013 there was a report in the Vijayawada edition titled 'Promoting girl child rights' that failed to meet the basic journalistic principles. An insensitive quote was attributed to 'Ms. Carol Fifon,' founder of Care and Share Trust because the reporter did not cover the event, and used a third party source to file the story. There was no attempt to check with a second source. This was very unprofessional behaviour on the part of the reporter, and the Editor expresses his regret to Ms. Carol Faison (even her name was misspelt in the report) for any damage the article would have caused her. I consider this a failure of both the reporter in particular, and the Vijayawada bureau in general." (sic)

Glad and relieved that the paper does not hesitate to acknowledge its mistake and offers no excuse. This inspires faith that principles of journalism matter to this institution. The Readers' Editor has, rightly, indicted not just the lazy, insincere reporter, but also the unsuspecting bureau for carrying the story as it is. My editor once told me that we (sub-editors) don't have to second guess the reporters all the time. But we need to, given how low they are stooping. We need to cross-check every spelling, every fact, every factoid. Need to. Or else we run the risk of looking like idiots. Sub-editor are the gatekeepers of the news. We need to know how to separate true from false. For this, we need to question the reporter. And this is where things might get dirty.

Dirty? (Before I proceed, I assert that I'm talking about the bad apples, aka pseudo-reporters-cum-stenographers. By God's grace, sincere reporters too exist.) I personally know reporters who have a reputation of not attending events. They either file a story on the basis of press release sent to them, or they ask their fellow reporters in other papers to pass on the information to them. Change the wording, send it across. No one would know. Live happily ever after. Well, just a matter of time before you end up being guilty of something as big as the error made by The Hindu reporter, who must have got it nicely from his/her superiors.

Ideally, reporters should be sincere and honest. But—as my journalism college's vice-dean would often say—we don't live in an ideal world. Reporters (again, not all, but many) are failing us, which is why we need to be extra cautious and approach each story with suspicion. Sub-editors should have the confidence to question the reporter and tell them what seems wrong when it seems wrong.

I have worked only in two newspapers and neither place had the culture of promoting interaction (and harmony) between the two departments. Desk and reporting is like Tom and Jerry. Even at best, a cold war is always there. Both sides look down upon each other. (Disclaimer: This doesn't apply to all the people, but most people. I've had a reporter abusing me, throwing a fit when I removed byline from a single-source story and told him/her, upon being asked, that such stories lack credibility.)

When a sub-editor gets a gobbledygook story from a reporter who has given him a piece of her mind earlier, the sub-editor concerned chooses not to be a concerned sub-editor for the sake of the peace of his mind. He doesn't seek clarification from the reporter, goes by the dictum of 'when in doubt, leave it out', and maybe that's how we lose on what the reporter thought was crucial to the story. This is how mistakes too happen. This is why The Hindu Readers' Editor has blamed the Vijayawada bureau too for carrying the story.

Anonymous sources
Another vice of reporters that the desk has come to accept is anonymous sources. I just loved the way Mr Panneerselvan disapproved of this "notorious practice" in his July 1 column. Allow me to quote a few lines from the piece: "...many journalists do not recognise that it undermines their own standing." "...a diligent reporter would have strived to find an attributable source even five years ago." "...anonymous sources are an easy way for rather lazy journalism."

I get sooo many stories that have a single source and even that person is not identified. I vividly remember that when we were learning the tricks of the trade in our journalism college, our professors just did not accept any story with anonymous or a single source. We would give excuses, justifications about why the source wouldn't speak, doesn't want to be identified and blah. Our teachers won't have any of it. They would sit on our head until we got that quote, with the name and designation of the person concerned. And it just so happened that most of the time we got someone in the thick of things to speak. You work hard, you'll get that quote. Period.

Journalists today, whether they are on desk or on the field, need to be more diligent. Journalism students learn about the platinum standards of the profession in their college, and then look at newspapers and say: "These national dailies are doing the kind of stuff our teachers say is anathema. The papers must be right, maybe our teachers are being pedantic, unnecessarily fussy." It will be sad if newspapers' 'chalta hai' approach becomes an excuse for aspiring journalists to relax their standards. Newspapers were supposed to be the benchmark, right?


“Accuracy is to a newspaper what virtue is to a lady, but a newspaper can always print a retraction.” —Adlai E Stevenson

July 15, 2013

5 yrs since it all began for me at IIJNM

Generally, I do not write a blog post during my office time. But today is not a general/usual day. On this date, five years ago, my batch at Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media (IIJNM) had its inaugural day. Never mind that I joined the batch after two days, on July 17. Been five years since we started our journey into the world of journalism! Five years. Half a decade. Quite some time.
Do you guys (my batchmates) remember the saplings we had planted in the hostel? You should see them. They are mini-trees now! The mango tree has started bearing fruits!

Does it feel like five years? No way. Seems like only yesterday. I vividly remember everything that happened. Vividly. The laughters, the tears, the joy, the disappointment, the admonishing, the (fill in the blanks). Even as I write this, I can see all of it unfold in front of my eyes.

Like I do every year, I went to attend the inaugural day ceremony of this batch too. I have been going to college whenever there is an opportunity. And I do not know why. I did not have a great time at IIJNM. In fact, that was the toughest time I faced in my life. I was putting too much, undue, pressure on myself to do well and I was doing a miserable job. Have always been sentimental, but my stint at IIJNM coincided with me being senti-cum-mental. Letters were sent to my home in both the semesters, telling my parents that I won't be able to complete the course until I pull up my socks. I had my thing going on and I could never really pull up my socks. I think it's the word I did on The Softcopy, the college's website, that saved me.

I let my teachers down and ended up becoming just a disappointment. IIJNM is the only place where I did not make any friends. (Not that I deliberately did not make; I'll rather avoid this topic) I was such a wreck that I had almost quit the college, not sure if I wanted to return. Now, I can't help but return. I don't know what draws me. For the first few visits to the college after my graduation, it was about nostalgia, memories and all. Nostalgia wears off. I don't know what it is that still draws me to the college. Don't know what makes me get up early automatically on days I have to visit the college, despite sleeping late, after hours of tossing and turning in the bed.

And yeah, I think I have redeemed myself. I had this guilty conscience about my pathetic stint at IIJNM. At the college, I could never focus on work as I was (whatever, that's not important). I was so whatever that didn't even take up a job immediately after work. Our convocation was on May 2. I took up a job the next year, February 26. Quite a delay. But I think I've done well. No, not a mere opinion. It's a matter of fact that I am doing well. I've done well to make up for the time I spent being jobless.

Just wondering if my IIJNM batchmates remember today is the fifth anniversary of our inaugural day. Hahaha... Too inconsequential a day to remember :) I don't even know why I'm writing this. There's nothing interesting here. Just that maybe I want to note that it's been five years! I had told myself that I'd post only important/funny stuff on my blog. This is bland. Diary-like self-talk. But it's ok. Funny posts are for the readers. This one is for myself. Way to go, boy :)

Oh no. I have this habit of playing to the gallery. Let me, for your pleasure, write down some of the questions the students of the new batch asked:
> Can we give a fake story? (This question came after alumni spoke extensively about the perils of plagiarism)

> What's the starting salary range? (This girl thought maybe it's in six figures)
> You said about 500 copies of your first book were printed, no? How many of them were sold? (The first question a student asked the executive editor of a national daily; he was the chief guest)
> "Make contacts" is the most cliched statement we hear. How do we make "contacts"? (The person said this with the quote-unquote gesture)