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 …

2 thoughts on “Barkhagate: there is a reason editors do not go out and report”

  1. Hi Nag,

    Good article. The problem is that a) news is a business, so there are always risks if the editorial control is too close to the business owner (as is the case in most Indian TV news channels); and b) to become an editor, I am guessing, you need to have reported for some time. With reporting/anchoring you get the name and fame in India, and with that comes some power. And it is hard to let go of that. And shift to the backroom and be just an editor. Don’t know how to tackle these issues – ego is tough thing to manage.

    Ankur

  2. Isn’t it the editors, at least in the television news context, who finally decide on what to report (or not to report) or at least how to report? A story goes through many layers of approval before it finally makes it to air. We have both been insiders now for a few years. Let’s not be naive.

    Senior reporters are making it to editor. If the senior reportees and editors can’t look at the big picture then they are no better than freshly minted recruits, and have no business doing what they purport to do – journalism.

    In the present context, frankly, Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. Journalists need only be fair and above reproach but also be seen as such.

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