Ranjona Banerji: The journalist as the newsmaker

By | on 04 Dec,2012

By Ranjona Banerji

 

To start with, we have the Caravan profile on Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Times Now. This very long and detailed investigation by Rahul Bhatia into what inspires Goswami to save the nation every night on primetime television might answers many questions for Goswami’s legion of fans and his detractors as well.

 

Some of the answers are known in journalistic circles: his ambition, his desire to get escape from under the shadows of Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt and his strategy to create a different character for Times Now. But there are the little details here from the way the Times Now newsroom functions to Goswami’s childhood and background that delineate the saviour’s character.

 

However, it might be said that you can be smothered by too much writing and too much detail. It’s interesting to learn that Times Now doesn’t bother with having too many journalists checking the news updates that come in before sending them out on screen. Actually, it’s evident given the factual and grammatical errors in the on-screen scrolls. Caravan does not put this down to journalistic error but to some complicated bureaucratic television procedures which perhaps amount to the same thing in old-fashioned terms.

 

The Caravan article suffers from being far too long. People may watch Goswami with shock and awe or they may watch in appalled wonder. But whether he deserves a one million-word profile (yes, I’m exaggerating) is another matter. It may be years from now that Goswami will go down in history as the Walter Cronkite of Indian journalism. It could be that he will (not that one would wish that fate on anyone) become like the Peter Finch character on Network, whipping people into a patriotic frenzy to take their nation back from government. It is as yet too early to tell.

 

But we are seeing an interesting trend here where journalists themselves become newsmakers. Watching people night after night on television has made them part of our lives and so we want to know more about them and how and why they tick. Television makes them feel closer but in pure print journalism terms, it is another country.

 

For those who want to know all about Goswami:

http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reportage/fast-and-furious?page=0,10

 

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Also in the news in the Times of India is celebrated journalist Katherine Boo. She will be attending the Times Literary Carnival to be held in Mumbai over the weekend. Boo is author of Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, an investigation into poverty in India through a Mumbai slum.

 

Boo is a rare journalist who decided to give up source journalism for the right to information process. At a meeting a few years ago, she explained to me why source journalism made a journalist dependent and challenged independence. She decided to use the US’s freedom of information act to get the details she needed into her investigations into poverty. The process is long and cumbersome, as one would expect. Her editors at the time did not appreciate her arguments and she had to do these poverty stories through right to information on her own time.

 

This is an intriguing method of gathering facts, even if it is far truer as far as information goes. In an everyday newsroom situation, patience is usually in short supply. But there can be little doubt that using RTI provides very solid evidence which is useful and inarguable.

 

Boo’s interview in the TOI makes some meaningful points about the importance of poverty journalism.

 

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The two Zee editors are still being denied bail and are still getting more or less bog standard coverage from the media. Pointing fingers is perhaps too dangerous?

 

Meanwhile, celebrities in the UK who have been the victims of phone-hacking and privacy infiltration are furious with the David Cameron government for rejecting the Leveson report’s recommendations for more stringent press regulation.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. The views expressed here are her own

 

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