By: Ravi Sinha
“Meaningful journalism…..?”, the dirty look by an industry veteran was enough to intimidate a budding journalist in me. However, in the early `90s I could not read anything other than cynicism in the statement. The quest for getting an entry into journalism and earning the byline was so tempting that I failed to understand what really he wanted to convey.
A couple of years later, on my first job as a city reporter the then editor sounded more curt and straight when he suggested me to better forget about what all crap has been taught in the post graduation course of journalism. It was the love for bylines, strange fascination to see my name published that yet again forced me to fall in line.
Over the next few years this byline syndrome drove me too far to even think of any real objective behind being the practitioner of journalism. Today, after having nearly spent two decades in the business the same question still stands whether byline is my ten minutes of fame or self glory or there is something more to it.
The world may have changed over these years, and television may have stormed the media business, but what has not changed is the fact that it is the same old byline around which life of a journalist revolves. Television journalists too are a crazy lot for PTC (piece to camera) and Exclusive and even camera persons never fail to remind for mentioning their credit in the story.
It is not that I have now started detesting bylines, nor am I against given byline to a news story. I don’t actually mind even if the story headline says that “A girl has been raped in broad day light” and follows it up with “By Staff Reporter”. At times this credit to the beat journalist may confuse the average readers as to whether it was the staff reporter who had raped the girl.
The idea here is to understand the state of mind where byline rules so supreme that we don’t really care for ethics, journalistic or humane. The cut throat competition among media houses and the rat race among the journalists have only deteriorated the objectives for which journalism ought to be practiced.
It seems we are not in the business to defend the cause of the victim but to victimize the one even further, be it a rape victim or someone who just lost the entire family in a blast. The lure of the byline and its by-product, thanks to the new breed of television journalism, “Exclusive” & “Breaking News” as the say, is so tempting that we fail to see there is a life beyond the credit line of the story too.
It seems the entire journalistic objective is to persuade and manipulate the victim to narrate the suffering, and in the process relive the agony yet again. It is not that journalists who are driven by this byline syndrome do gain something personally out of this “me first & me fast” syndrome. Of course, there are a few smart operators who make a fortune for themselves, but for most of the byline hungry lot it is actually love for the profession that drives them far and further.
I know a whole bunch of journalists whose families have suffered due to their main bread winner being too involved in a profession where the only reward has been byline, with only a meager salary of course.
I wonder whether they can channelise this passion for something more meaningful. After all, whose interests are they serving if in the name of being ahead of other media and getting exclusives, the love for the profession too takes a back seat. But then that is a state of mind, which defies any rational explanation for even the best of the Freudians.
Is there any way out? Can there be any avenue for meaningful journalism? May be yes, only if these dedicated journalists do get a media platform which is truly free, frank and fearless and not bound by editorial policy that is dictated by the advertising revenue.
In my opinion, only advocacy and activism journalism is the answer….and that too with a media platform that is not bound by editorial or marketing constraints. We need a media vehicle where there is no rat race for “me first & me fast” and where byline comes with your contribution to the cause, not by mere story filing. With these objectives Track2Media Research has launched this news site.
The news portal is being established to address major emerging issues and concerns, and welcome citizens’ advocacy and activism as well to coordinate and monitor progress in shaping the policies. The partnership would not merely be intellectual (championing the cause through advocacy) but also numeric (a large pool of activists to have a share in policy making). We look forward to actions that are substantive and not merely symbolic. Hopefully, we will make some of the media friends understand the fact that there is a life, and more meaningful life, beyond the bylines.