Changing face of newsroom

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 12 Oct 2017 11:39:10


That morning of October 31, 1984, came with a dirty news which nobody in the world would love to hear. In her own residential premises, by her own security guards, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was shot at, by pumping into her frail body as many as 27 bullets. This happened a few minutes after 9 a.m. Exactly at 9.16 a.m, the first flash came on the news teleprinters. At the same time, the Nagpur Bureau Chief of Press Trust of India (PTI), a personal friend, called me in a shockingly grim tone: “Vijay, Mrs. Indira Gandhi has been shot at by her own guards. The news is on the printer.”

At that odd morning hour, the newsrooms all over the world are deserted places. But within minutes, they became the busiest of places in the world with all editors rushing in to
tackle the news situation that had the colour of a national catastrophe. Every subsequent minute of that fateful day was steeped in two chemistries -- one of profound shock and grief and anger, and the other of the silent urge to
excel in the professional challenge to present the news in the most accurate manner -- complete with fact and emotion.

In the past fifty-plus years, one has had to face with countless such situations that shocked and confused and delighted the journalists. Each time such a moment came, the journalist wakes up in full flow and handles the occasion with a rare determination and focus to present the news to the readers -- or listeners or watchers, depending upon the medium. Newsroom is one place where so many elements of human nature reveal themselves in wonderful confluence. Each time such a news breaks, the world’s newsrooms get locked in a taut professional contest to excel. Each journalist, each newspaper, each radio of TV channel, then takes appropriate professional pride of having done a good job.

Pride! Pride?
This sense of shock and bewilderment is common to those who are only consumers of news, the common people. If they ponder a little more deeply, they would realise that pride is the only word applicable. Every journalist’s years of training and experience come into play when such challenges emerge on the scene. So, every journalist tries the hardest to do justice to the news so that the larger society is adequately and appropriately informed and involved.

Subsequently, researchers work hard to assess how a big event was covered by the media. But one remark has stayed in memory. A post-event survey of media coverage after US President John Kennedy’s assassination, commented about the New York Times: ‘Looking at the coverage of news and views in NYT, it appears as if the paper was preparing for President’s assassination for years’. Look at the paradox. Look at the compliment, and the manner in which it was delivered, howsoever with great intentions.

Similar remarks have come for The Hitavada’s coverage of countless events. Though at one level such remarks are extremely satisfying, at another level, they are saddening -- that one has to put in the best performance to present even the worst news, unmindful of personal emotions, irrespective of the individual mental trauma.

But the newsroom is a changed place today. Its old culture is gone, having been replaced by a new culture. Technology has brought about much change in the manner of journalistic response to the events. There is much less respect for the subject of the news or the people involved in news. Much material is available on internet and the hectic, last-minute research which was the order of the olden days has given way to an almost nonchalant tapping of computer keys to get information. And to a vast extent, the romance of the old times has gone out of the window. In the name of professionalism, the younger lot is a far more cut-and-dried group.

Yet, there still are countless people who feel the romance of news gathering and presentation. They are very serious about whatever they do by way of work. They are committed to balanced presentation -- without bias and
blight, pride or prejudice, fear or favour. For them, the newsroom is a sacrosanct place, almost a temple. It is in the hands of such people that journalism is safe.
There is one point of sadness, of course, that hurts people of my generation.

It relates to decline in the standards of language -- in all segments, English, Marathi, Hindi ...! For reasons best known to one and all, the younger generations are very casual about the language and grammar and impact. This may be traced back to the decline of standard of teaching of the languages in schools and colleges. This may be traced back also to the overall decline of interest in languages in the larger society. Whatever the reason, it is a sad reality that today’s youngsters -- as a generation -- have not been introduced to fine language. Perhaps, this may have something to do with that decline in cultural dimensions of our society.

But, for all these reasons cumulatively, the quality of linguistic expression has declined at least in the media, a very few honourable exceptions notwithstanding.
Say thirty years ago, the newsroom was one place where intellectual discussion and debate were taking all the time, assessing and dissecting the news and events and deciphering it. Now, what is more in evidence is the effort only to present the news with some shallow remarks that hardly make up for the deep and considered opinion which was the highlight of the work of the old masters.