Objectivity is arguably the most over-used word in newsrooms. Some say it is also a feature of news coverage of which too much is made and that there is no such thing as an objective news report.
That’s partly true.
Vigilant editors—and I’d like to think the Mint newsroom has several of the dying species—can remove the slant that creeps into stories because: reporters don’t have access or the subject won’t give it to them; there’s history between the reporter and the subject; the reporter has forgotten the basics of journalism and simply forgotten to tell the other side of the story. Yet, it is well-nigh impossible to surgically remove a reporter’s knowledge, beliefs, even values, from the story.
Over the past few years, with news becoming a commodity, opinion has grown in relevance and importance. Opinion is a significant driver of on-line traffic and some media companies are beginning to believe it will work in print as well—especially for newspapers and weekly news magazines.
I still think news, analysis, perspective, and the results of investigations are the only things that belong in the news section of papers and websites. There’s a place for opinion, but only in the editorial pages and sections. This could well be the orthodox world-view of someone who is still essentially a print journalist and it could be that the world has moved on beyond such seemingly trivial concerns as objectivity.
I say this because I have been watching a lot of television over the past weeks during which television has pretty much set the agenda, feeding off the anti-corruption protest of Anna Hazare and, in some way, contributing to it as well, in the process amplifying it.
On television, few anchors and editors are objective. Their conversations are peppered with opinions of the sort that result in unpleasant discussions in the Mint newsroom between editors and reporters. A sampling (of the Mint newsroom conversation, not those of TV anchors):
“Your report has a line that says this strategy is misguided and will likely fail.”
“That’s your opinion, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but it’s the opinion of a lot of other people as well.”
“Then it should be easy for you to find me someone who is willing to go on the record saying something similar.”
“But why? Everyone knows this”.
...and so on (but you get the picture).
Maybe opinions are what people want to hear. According to a report that appeared in last Friday’s Mint, news channels doubled their viewership last week.
Last year, at Mint’s editorial offsite, several senior editors independently expressed their view that the next frontier for us was “authoritative reporting”—the kind where readers read a piece on a particular issue and go: “This guy really knows what he is talking about.”
It could well be that the television equivalent of this is Arnab Goswami solving the government’s problems at the end of a panel discussion on Times Now. I say this not because other anchors on other networks don’t try and solve larger national problems, but because Goswami does so more emphatically than most others.
It could be that it is difficult for TV journalists, caught up in the moment, to be as cynical or unemotional as the typical print journalist is.
It could also be that while covering events that are being covered extensively by other news channels as well, the only way a news channel can differentiate itself is through the acting abilities of its reporters and anchors.
I mean no disrespect with the use of the word acting. To establish a connection with their audience, TV reporters and anchors have to reach out to them becoming, in some ways, performers. They have to look sad when they are speaking of tragedies (and there are so many of those, these days). They have to look happy when they are speaking of victories. And, above all, they have to look indignant because Middle (class) India is usually indignant about everything from potholes to the price of pumpkin (and justifiably so) and while the universe of television viewers is not composed entirely of the middle class, the one that is measured for the purpose of TV ratings is.
That may not appeal to the intelligentsia, the thinking audience that likes to make up its own mind based on facts, but it will definitely attract the masses.
As for the former, there’s always print.
And (forgive the doggerel), there’s always Mint.
PS: For the record, I am a great admirer of Mr Goswami and have been pushing Mint’s media team to profile him. The man, quite simply, is a phenomenon.
PPS: It needs to be said, even if everyone knows it. Times Now is part of the Times Group that competes with HT Media, Mint’s publisher, in several categories and markets.
Write to email@example.com