Ranjona Banerji: Trashy Times & how media houses fail in human relations

02 Aug,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The Outlook Group has had to shut down three magazines, all of which were foreign franchises – People, Marie Claire and Geo. Any profit-making organisation is well within its rights to close down a business which is doing badly. But media houses seem to be severely short of any kind of human relations with their employees. Inevitably, employees are told at the last minute and shunted out immediately. We have seen it recently with Mid-Day closing down centres in Delhi and Bangalore and with NDTV Profit in Mumbai. The callousness can usually be attributed to managements or the corporate side of the journalism business.

 

In the case of the three Outlook Group magazines, most editorial employees apparently found through a tweet by a writer not connected to the group. It also appears that the management sections of the magazines had been given prior warning. There is something disquieting – apart from distressing for those concerned – in the cavalier way in which media managements treat editorial staff. This trend has remained unchanged even though Admin and Personnel departments now have fancy names like “Human resources”. As anyone who has interacted with them will vouch for, there is little that is human about them.

 

A labour court in Bandra has stayed the termination of services of 17 editorial staff of People magazine. The writer who revealed the closures on Twitter has written an article for newslaundry.com explaining her case and the attitude of the management. http://www.newslaundry.com/2013/07/a-bleak-outlook/ In this, Rajyasree Sen raises some pertinent points. One which stands out is the silence on the matter by Krishna Prasad, editor of the group’s flagship magazine, Outlook. Prasad has a very successful blog called churumuri, which often comments on media matters. It has been harsh – and rightly so – on the sacking of senior editorial staff of Forbes magazine. Sen questions churumuri’s silence when it comes to Outlook’s treatment of its staff in his blog: http://churumuri.wordpress.com/. I could not find any references to this issue on churumuri either.

 

The problem however is obvious and it is also why journalists rarely come together in unity for causes any more. There are innumerable clichés I could use but they all boil down to one thing: money. No one is going a rock a boat that they’re perched on. As long as the salary lands in your bank account every month, it is better to remain silent about management behaviour and transgressions. I do not know how much clout editors have with their owners and senior managers any more. Earlier, there were some signs of support, of editors fighting for their staff or showing solidarity. Now solidarity within the profession seems to be in short supply. More than three years outside a newspaper organisation has taught me this much: journalism is now a cut-throat dog-eat-dog business. Perhaps if any of us were the editor of Outlook (!), we would also be silent on this matter no matter how much venom we poured on other media groups for their misbehaviour! But the corollary is that if you cannot bite the hand that feeds you, can you be considered fair when you criticise other media groups?

 

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The Times of India sometimes manages to surprise even hardened cynics. Because of a little storm on Twitter, India’s largest read English newspaper has been exposed for carrying the most unprintable bilge on its website. Under its lifestyle section, masquerading as gender relations, the website has been carrying a series of articles about how to have sex, positions women like and so on.

 

They appeared to have been written by the same person and are not only badly written and in bad taste but also have little journalistic reason for being there. It is like a monkey trying to imitate the Cosmopolitan style of 57 ways to suck your man’s toes and so on. If you found the Cosmo articles silly, you cannot imagine how the TOI website versions would upset you. I have to use the past tense because the articles have been removed from the website after the criticism. It makes you wonder if there had been no editorial control so far on what this young person had been writing. I am loath to name him or her but the name is doing the rounds on the social media. It is also evident that whoever wrote these appeared not just to be misogynistic (women do not bathe often and are smelly are two popular themes) but also not very experienced in sexual matters.

 

This comment on the TOI website by Huffington Post encapsulates the disgust and scorn that has been apparent on social media for the last couple of days: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/07/30/times-of-india-women-facts_n_3677378.html? utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false&utm_content=buffer266a7&utm_source= buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer

 

Without being moralistic about it, why should a reputed newspaper’s website have to resort this kind of bordering-on-bad-porn writing? The articles had no corroborations or quotes or access to surveys. They were not funny or even sexy. The writer appeared to have no qualifications to hold forth on the ‘5 sex positions that women die for’. It was like someone senior said, “Let’s have some writing on sex” and someone junior was put on the job.

 

I have been told that most newspapers have similar kinds of “stories” on their websites. True?

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator based in Mumbai. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. She can be reached via Twitter at @ranjona. The views here are her own

 

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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Trashy Times & how media houses fail in human relations”

  1. Rahul says:

    Hi Ranjona, I completely agree with you when you say, “But the corollary is that if you cannot bite the hand that feeds you, can you be considered fair when you criticise other media groups?”. I’ve been a journalist and now work in the brand team of a media company. I agree that it is very difficult for journos to write about things that (they feel) are not right in their own company. This occurred to me recently, when everyone in the media expected MS Dhoni to speak out against the BCCI and its top bosses. Dhoni, in that sense, is not different from the rest of us, who are reluctant to speak up against our masters.

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