Friday, September 26, 2008

Not such a great profession after all?

Journalists in India are better paid than ever before, but job satisfaction is on the decline. TV news channels with their increasingly bizaare content are an affront to the intelligence of the journalists who work in them. If you can make your peace with dubious ethics, shrieking anchors for bosses and seeking new angles to long-broken stories, you can survive there and earn your six figure monthly salary. Competition has put a premium on low cost news, so at many news channels news gathering for genuine stories is low priority.

In newspapers the problem is not a bald one of practising dubious ethics to earn the ratings, it is the more subtle challenge of working your way past each major newspaper's sensitivities. In the Times of India you learn to watch out for the sensitivities of advertisers and its Private Treaties partners. Occasionally if you get uppity your nose might be rubbed in the mud a bit, just to show you that management is boss. Otherwise, you have the editorial freedom that other newspapers in the city might not have.

The Hindustan Times has seen quite an exodus in recent months of both editors and staffers, and is poised to get two new editorial bosses, the chief editor being a business journalist. Here the problem tends to change with each new editor incumbent, but the basic problem is that the newspaper pretty much has its ideology set. It is pro-Congress and in states where its owners have business interests it is pro establishment, and you are expected to toe the line set by the proprietors. The management is used to calling the shots, even in editorial decisions. If you work there,you have to live with the limitations.

The Hindu had a clear ideological line until the CPM decided to make common cause with the Bharatiya Janata Party, leading the paper to embrace the BJP as well. After years of being pro-UPA and pro Left, its correspondents now cringe a bit when they see the BJP office in New Delhi displaying front page interviews in the Hindu with L K Advani, on its notice board. Earlier you had to be careful about your reporting and editorializing on account of the Left, now you have to watch out for both the Left and the Right. There are editorial decrees on both counts. And these days editorial staff there amuse themselves by counting the letters to the editor on the nuclear deal to see how many pro and how many anti letters will be carried.

The Telegraph in Delhi suffers from low visiibilty and too many people, given the editorial space available. Pressure of space is a problem in every newspaper, you could wait upto a month to see your story in print, or you can see it killed for lack of space. That makes for added frustration. The froth-filled pages in many of the newspapers are growing in number, the pages available for news are not. With newsprint prices high, travel and other newsgathering costs are increasingly being curtailed.

There is a sort of consensus in the profession that if don't mind a paltry salary you can go to Outlook where the atmosphere is not bad, if you don't mind low circulation you can go to the Express, where you can pretty much write what you like, and get paid well too, at least in the Delhi edition. If you don't mind not being read at all, you could go to the Statesman where again you can pretty much write what you want, but getting paid might be a problem.

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