Ranjona Banerji: So what does a young, idealistic person do as a journalist?

14 May,2021

By Ranjona Banerji


A chat with journalism students earlier this week (online of course) was full of the kind of questions that you would want to hear about the state of journalism today. Where are the real stories? Why does the media ignore the ground realities? Why is the news sensationalised and so on.

But the saddest question I got was along these lines: what does an idealistic young person do, when in their first job as a journalist, their bosses ask them to do something which goes against the tenets of journalism?

And I was stumped for an answer.

I can only imagine how tough it must be in these times. Where lines are so clear, where divisions are so sharp. It’s not the same as being sent off to cover some boring Rotary event the owner wants featured or trudge the streets in summer getting contact details for every shop in your given area for a “city directory”, or to attend an early morning “laughter club” or any of the terrible things rookies and freshers are forced to do.

In today’s world, this means enforced government-dictated cover ups and fudging.

This means giving up all those ideals to reveal the truth to the world, to get into investigations, to challenge those in power. And instead, to push whatever agenda the editors and owners have concocted. Make no mistake, follow the owner and you’re fast-tracked to rise high and fast. Get that selfie with the PM and publicise it widely and you jump a few steps from senior correspondent to editor. Like any profession, journalism can also be as full as corporate shenanigans as any other.

(Some of the jokes we made in that discussion with journalism students were about sacking CEOs and the HR department. Sorry people. But we know what you’re like.)

But how does one answer that question? Of all the work that has been done during this awful pandemic, it has been from those journalists who have broken out of their constraints and presented the horrible reality to their readers and viewers. From June to November 2020, some newsrooms were inventing stories to keep the sad death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput alive for political reasons. Whether it was the Bihar assembly elections or deflection from the pandemic, it worked. The media churned up hatred, divisions, targeted people as culprits with scant evidence and against all journalistic principles. The worst caricatures of the TV reporter were played out in front of our eyes, as postmen and delivery people were harangued and chased in order to vilify a young actress.

And then poof! Forgotten and gone. Poor Rajput was no longer needed.

If that was one of our lowest points, then 2021’s pandemic has forced some newsrooms to get out there. All those heart-wrenching photographs and reports of death and mourning families and funerals have come from journalists on the ground. Maybe in spite of their bosses and in spite of the political puppet-masters controlling their bosses.

Every day, journalist Deepak Patel posts on Twitter how official figures of Covid-19 deaths in Gujarat do not match evidence at crematoriums and burial grounds. He provides links to Gujarat’s newspapers which have been relentless in covering the reality of Gujarat’s horrific Covid situation. These include newspapers which have praised and supported Narendra Modi as chief minister during the 2002 riots and beyond.


So all I can offer as hope to young idealism is: hold on, try and be true to yourselves. Sometimes, the worm turns.


Condolences to the Bennett Coleman group on the death of their Chairman Indu Jain from Covid-related complications.



Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal.

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