Barkhagate: there is a reason editors do not go out and report

The newsroom is a strange place filled with large egos, competing motives, and everybody suffers from the illusion that they are RIGHT. The only reason that a newsroom works is that there are checks and balances. At least, that’s what we’re told.

As a former journalist, I think its important to point out the most fundamental premise on which all these checks and balances are based: reporters are too close to the story, so editors who have no interest in keeping sources happy grill reporters and satisfy themselves before allowing a story to get published.

That’s how it works in newsrooms across the world, and in most in print newsroom in India. Television newsrooms, however, are a whole different story. Almost every news channel in India has a reporter at the top of the pyramid. There’s absolutely nothing wrong in an anchor going out and reporting. There is something wrong when a reporter, talking to sources all the time, calls the shots.

You see, a reporter needs to cultivate sources … to string them along, to build relationships based on something that, for all practical purposes, resembles trust.

An editor doesn’t need to do any of the above. In fact, most editors I’ve known have to put up with all sorts of pressure to carry, or more often not carry, stories. The fact is, having reporters do the reporting gives them a certain amount of distance and deniability, which is often invaluable in not only judging a story’s merits and dealing with external pressure.

In TV newsrooms it doesn’t work like this any longer. Barkha is the Group Editor of NDTV, Rajdeep can have the last word if he chooses to in CNN-IBN, Arnab at Times Now is more commentator than editor, or reporter.

I had the pleasure of working with the former head of Sky News UK. He never appeared on TV. He never reported on a story while he was there. But he was the boss, he was the one with the ultimate responsibility for news calls. And simply because of this distance, even in the hurly burly world of 24×7 news bulletins, he could take calls that the reporter bringing the story in never could.

Unfortunately, in India, almost no checks and balances are imposed in TV newsrooms on the senior-most reporters.

Barkha was too focused on the story of the moment to wonder about the big picture. That’s her explanation. And she’s right. No reporter can be expected to think about the big picture. Their job is to focus on the here and now.

That’s why you need editors …

On Hospitals, Design and Service

I’ve spent the last week or so living at Fortis Hospital, Jaipur looking after my grandmother.

When I was around eight, we moved to Jaipur from Calcutta and came to live with my grandma. So, for all practical purposes, she brought me up. To cut a long story short, we’re close.

She’s eighty-three and this is her first visit to a hospital as a patient. She didn’t let the pneumonia, her age, or the ICU get in the way of making sure she had a great time (often at the expense of the nurses looking after her). She’s a lot better now and should be discharged tomorrow.

Spending so much time at the hospital got me thinking about how Fortis has used design in their service — the hospital positions itself as a place where patients are looked after in the friendliest way possible. I have to say, they’ve lived up to the posters they have scattered around the place by designing their service to reflect that positioning.

In a lot of ways they’ve done a better job than some of the hotels I’ve stayed at. Perhaps because everybody who works here has higher self-worth than many of the people who work at hotels.

There is something about looking after people that can bring out the best in a human being. My limited experience at some hospitals suggests that it can also bring out the worst. I guess the hospital is to be commended for putting in the time and effort to choose people who care, and then spend time and effort in designing processes that re-enforce what’s important.

A simple example: there’s a lady who’s come by every couple of days in a pink coat to check whether we’re being well taken care of. She makes it a point to first talk my grandma and then us. The priorities are clear. The pink coat is an interesting touch. Non medical staff who deal with quality of patient care wear pink coats. The non-medical guys in the lobby who deal with visitors, admissions etc wear black coats. The doctors wander around in green vests, pyjamas and white coats. Nursing staff wear blue. Everybody’s got their name stitched onto their coats/vests so you know who you’re talking to. It even tells you what they do:
Dr X

I don’t think this unique to Fortis — I’m sure most other hospitals that bleed insurers dry do the same, but it’s a good feeling.

I guess the best part of this experience — besides the fact that Granny’s better — is that we’ve been able to focus on her getting better without any hassles or headaches. The doctors and staff have been accessible and willing to answer questions and explain what’s going on.

And that is by design, which makes me very happy.