All Journalists Are Not Reporters

10 Aug,2021


By Ranjona Banerji


Ranjona BanerjiI feel that I’ve spent my life in journalism. More than 30 years. It’s true that I haven’t worked in a newsroom since 2010 and also true that I tried to escape many times. But I feel secure that I know the basics. Of print journalism at least.


Or do I?


I ask this because all too often these days, I am informed about the business by people who have no connection or very little.


Now don’t get me wrong. Members of the public have a big stake in journalism. And if we hadn’t dropped the ball, they wouldn’t need to be so angry with us. Social media and internet access have brought us under greater scrutiny and also made us journalists redundant in many ways. At the good end of the spectrum, you have Alt News, which fact checked its way to shaming journalists and doing the job better. At the other end, you have OpIndia which appropriated its way into an “editorial” position through misinformation and bigotry and thus shamed indubitably journalism.


But misconceptions remain.


One is that every journalist is a reporter or that to be a journalist you have to be a reporter.


How far from the truth is that? No news organisations can exist only with reporters. Many journalists believe that subeditors are the backbone of a newsroom. Anyone who gets upset with headlines which misrepresent the news or the screeds that run across TV screens might realise the enormous importance of a good sub.


There is enormous hard work that goes into making copy readable and accessible. In shifting between extraneous information provided by a reporter in case it gets through and also organising a news report so that it flows with logic and easy understanding for the reader. Every time you hear a reporter on TV repeating the same thing again and again, you know they’re doing it for maximum airtime:


Anchor: Is that a tomato?


Reporter: Yes, that is a tomato. I have spoken to several sources, and they all agree that it is a tomato. Sir, is that a tomato. Yes it looks like a tomato. So you see Pingoo in the Studio, people agree that it is a tomato. We are still waiting for official confirmation that this tomato is a tomato but as of now we are certain that this is a tomato and all the sources I have spoken to agree that it is a tomato I have also looked at and I think it is a tomato (collapses on tomato, to try and breathe).


Anchor: Thanks, Tingoo. You heard our reporter. As of now we’re calling this a tomato, but we are still waiting for official confirmation. But all our sources are sure that this is a tomato and we will get back to this important news as soon as we know this is a tomato.


In print or the web, in an ideal world, all this would be edited to: “The object is a tomato”. Or delete delete delete what is this tomato rubbish.


Although a subeditor is low down on the food chain, like it happened to many others, when I started working as a sub, people were impressed that I must be something very important because of the “editor” bit.


It’s a symbiotic relationship, reporters and subs. They cannot exist without each other. The news gatherer and the news organiser.


So no, people. Sorry to disappoint you. All journalists are not reporters. And it would be a disaster if they are!


In the next few weeks, should we delve a little deeper into this murky world? On how it has changed and why people are so angry, and why they think they know so much about who we are what we do?


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal



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