Ranjona Banerji: Should editors learn to handle owners, managers & staff?

02 Jan,2015

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Rahul Pandita quits The Hindu as editor of the Op Ed page. And this time, unlike the exits from the venerable and respected newspaper in 2013, it is not because of pressure to do with political leanings and support or lack of for Narendra Modi. Instead, it is to do with real journalism stuff: the interference of owner-editors into the newsroom process. Here’s the letter: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1sjlbdp

 

The Kasturi family’s relationship with each other and with the newspaper is on its way to becoming a liability for such a venerable journal and here’s another unfortunate step along the way.

 

On reading the letter, you might argue that Pandita should have been made of sterner stuff. That this is what senior journalists have to learn to cope with if they want the top jobs. That the challenges of running a newsroom include handling owners, managers and staff.

 

You might and you would be right up to a point.

 

Because you could also argue that editors should not have to tolerate constant interference. That editors and senior journalists should be allowed to do their jobs like the professionals they are. That if owners do not want professionals they should not hire them. Because it is this sort of interference that leads to a newspapers or journal losing value in the long run. How many editors and senior journalists do we all know that have turned into management lackeys because they didn’t have the courage to stand up for themselves?

 

I am unable to comment on news television here because it appears to march to a very different drummer – in India at the moment at least.

 

But in print, the over-interference of the owner/ manager has been disastrous. In the last newsroom I was part of, this was a daily affair and we had not one but two owners often with contradictory needs and demands. We also had an official plant with limited journalistic skills and experience who worked as a spy for one owner. I realised soon after joining that this was the way new journalism would function in India until editors took a stand.

 

Many of us quit but I am uncertain how many of us took the sort of stand that Pandita has. Perhaps we felt there was no point. Perhaps we thought about the next job. Perhaps we thought simply about the pressures of making a living. Or perhaps we knew that owners who didn’t value professional skill while we were working there were not that interested in our opinion after we quit.

 

If we’re lucky and you believe in symbolism then Pandita’s courage will be the stepping stone for the next year, where journalists will speak up for themselves and what they will and will not do.

 

I am making an example of this resignation letter only because it delineates so many problems editors face but often do nothing about. Except fester… or drink it off… or take it out on family and friends. You take the job because you are addicted to challenge and pressure but this is the sort of pressure you can do without.

 

**

 

For the rest, what will 2015 bring us?

 

More of the same I would imagine except that over time, the pro-government media lobby will shrink.

 

That we will forget almost everything we did in 2014 and keep repeating it in 2015.

 

And this one I am sure of: No more yearenders and forecasts after next week.

 

Phew.

 

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2 responses to “Ranjona Banerji: Should editors learn to handle owners, managers & staff?”

  1. ashok759 says:

    Editors should learn from Shekhar Gupta how to deal with owners, and get on to the Forbes list in the process.

  2. editorsunil says:

    it is an interesting read. though your comment does not tackle one aspect of profession of journalism and business of publication. while freedom of expression looks like a journalistic privilege, in indian context it is freedom of the owner or the publisher. and what at best a journalist could enjoy, or does enjoy is part of that freedom delegated to the journalist by the owner of media, or publisher. the success is in a careful selection of each-other by the two sides, so that comfort level is as high as possible. freedom comes with this comfort level, and goes away when employer is not at ease with the journalistic work. the true freedom of expression could come only outside a publication or media business, when a journalist is on its own. being part of a business machinery, even as a professional journalist serving within it, and claiming to be a free journalist, doesn’t blend well with the reality.

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