Ranjona Banerji: Time to junk ‘exclusive’ tag

26 Apr,2013

By Ranjona Banerji


When television bigwigs grace us with their onscreen presence in the daytime, you know that the Supreme Vampire Council has decided that sunshine is no longer anathema to night crawlers. Okay, okay, I’m kidding. It means that this story is a biggie and the bigwigs want to be part of it.


So how would this work in newspaper terms? Do all the senior editors run out of their cubby holes, cubicles and cabins and decide that instead of all the reporters well-versed in this biggie story, they are now going cover it? Or do they brush aside all the copy editors and take on the task of collating, investigating, interviewing, reporting and presenting the story themselves? Or do they do the job they are supposed to – plan, direct, add on, prompt, encourage, roar, explode and whip a story into shape?


It is a measure of how TV runs that the limelight seems like the deciding factor. Senior print editors can take on some of the roles of their colleagues but they would be foolish to try and replace them – not that there are no fools in newspaper newsrooms; no dearth at some times, it seems. But this is where these two branches of journalism run on fast separating tracks. No editor-in-chief of a newspaper worth his salt would jump into a story just to get a front page byline – unless he or she (on the off chance) had played a major role in breaking the story or has some impeccable sources. They might analyse it, they may do an interview here and there and provide perspective. There is a great satisfaction in being the behind-the-scenes master of ceremonies or puppeteer or even manipulator in a newspaper.


Anyway, back to the point. The chit fund scam broke in West Bengal and on the day that the owner of the Saradha group Sudipta Sen was arrested, all the TV bigwigs announced their presence on daytime television.


Sen had written a letter before he ran away claiming that he was being harassed and used and was contemplating suicide. I myself first read about this letter in The Indian Express. But Times Now and Headlines Today simultaneously claimed to have exclusive rights to the letter and later the rest of TV had it as well. The next day The Times of India said it had revealed the letter first.


Perhaps it is about time that this whole “exclusive” angle of a story is junked unless there is incontrovertible proof that it is so. Like “breaking news” which no one believes any more this “exclusive” claim has lost all its lustre.


In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and arrest of the two brothers, the American media has done a fair bit of public hand-wringing and analyses of the way the story was covered. One conclusion that was reached is self-evident in a way – a reporter cannot be an effective news gatherer if he has to appear on TV every five minutes with an update for live television, especially when the story is still unfolding. Add the imminent threat to life and the drama and the task becomes impossible.


Social media played its own role in the proceedings and here is some food for thought: http://socialmediatoday.com/node/1401431 which is pro Twitter and the inimitable Maureen Dowd from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/24/opinion/dowd-lost-in-space.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0




A couple of years ago, the news was owned by Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and India Against Corruption. Hazare was deemed India’s most powerful man by India Today. This year, Hazare does not even make it to the list. Veteran journalist Harish Khare analyses the phenomenon in The Hindu. The headline says “Be wary of false prophets” and that is a fair warning for the reader and viewer. But there is another message here for those who get taken in by concentrated media coverage, as Hazare and his friends were. Media attention blows hot, cold, indifferent and you believe it at your own peril.



Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are her own. You can reach her via Twitter at @ranjona


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