There are times when senior journalists create bad journalists out of rookie reporters.
These days cub reporters learn the hard way that it is best to wait for hand-outs from publicists than go and chase a news story.
The state of Bollywood journalism today is not only the result of collective manipulation by a section of publicists but also the media’s over-willingness to ass-lick Bollywood stars. I am yet to get an answer as to why most journalists start crawling when they are asked to bend in front of Bollywood stars.
The selfish ‘system’ of news gathering that the journalists have put in place makes everybody dependent on a Bollywood star and his PR. And we show no signs of bringing in a change.
Truth be told that it’s still a star ‘byte’ that is of utmost importance in Bollywood reporting. And star bytes hardly come when there’s no agenda.
In this post, I will present slices of newsroom conversations that will illustrate how senior journalists create bad examples in front of rookies. Here are two slightly dramatized examples of such ‘examples’.
(Editor’s room. Enter, mid-level reporter. The editor looks up and frowns as the reporter knocks on the glass door)
Editor: (Letting the rookie reporter in) You have got a story? You haven’t produced a story for two days in a row. I don’t think you are performing. In two hours I need two good stories from you. If you don’t have a story then don’t attend the edit meet today. Okay?
Reporter: (In a exited tone) I have got a great story. I will just re-check the facts and brief you. Give me just ten minutes.
Editor: Huh! Not here. Tell me at the edit meet. Let’s see what you have got.
(Dissolve and cut to editorial meeting two hours later where the editor sitting with his team of 18 reporters on a huge, oblong table)
Editor (the frown persists on her face): (Sarcastically) So, where’s your breaking story?
(Camera pans across newsroom and then focuses on the reporter who proudly takes her notebook out. Zooms in on some faces and shifts between editor and reporter)
Reporter: Okay, here is my story. This star had gone to Goa with his girlfriend (also a Bollywood star). I have spoken to the hotel manager and he confirmed that the star stayed there for three days with this A-list actress. The actress joined him two days later, on the 8th of this month.
(Reporter takes a breather)
Interestingly, both tweeted that they were on a holiday but didn’t say that they were together. Both of them also tweeted a picture of the Baga beach within an hour of each other…
Editor (Still frowning): You mean to say, they were holidaying together and you have got the hotel manager on record?
Reporter (smiling): I have his text messages on my phone and I have saved the Gmail chats. Here, have a look (extends her smart phone towards the editor). But I cannot quote him, he will lose his job.
Editor (frowning as usual): You spoke to the stars concerned? Do you know they have denied that they are in a relationship?
Reporter (smiling): I messaged them, their spokespersons got back to me and said my information is wrong.
Editor (in panic mode): They have denied your story?!!
Reporter: Yes. But I have the hotel manager on G-chat saying that they were together. I have saved the chat transcript too. I have text messages from their friends saying that they had holidayed together. Their tweets also indicate that they were in exactly the same location. Only the spokespersons is denying everything.
Editor: I am sorry I cannot go on your indications. If there is a denial from the spokespersons then we cannot take the story. I will meet your star next week for an interview. I will ask him the question.
(looks to the next reporter) Next story, please.
(Reporter goes back into her shell)
(Rookie Reporter enters the newsroom. There’s a spring in her steps. Senior Reporter looks at her, frowns. Continues looking at her till Rookie notices and starts the conversation)
Rookie Reporter: I have got a great interview opportunity. I am going and interviewing Ms X (a leading Bollywood actress). This is my first chance to interview her. I am so excited!
Senior Reporter (in panic mode): How did you get the interview? How come Ms X is talking to you without an agenda?
Rookie (excitedly): Ms X is promoting a shaving cream brand. She will give me 15 minutes exclusively.
Senior: Oh! (takes the name of the Brand’s PR). She’s always been very cunning. She was calling me yesterday but I didn’t pick up her calls. She must have called you after that. But you go ahead. Best of luck! I really love the way you are working so hard.
Rookie: Do I need to speak to the Editor?
Senior Reporter: There’s no need. This will be published for sure. You go ahead and do it. She is out of office. I will tell her when she comes back. You go ahead and do the interview.
(Dissolve. Cut to next day’s edit meeting)
Editor: I am told that you have a fabulous Ms X interview?
Rookie: (In an excited tone) Yes! Yes! She has done an exclusive photo-shoot with me too.
Editor (frowning): In the same clothes in which she attended the event?
Rookie: No! Ms X was very nice to me and she changed her top for me.
Editor: Great! She has answered the personal questions too?
Rookie: Yes! She has answered all of them. Ms X has said that she is single and not dating anybody.
Editor: That she tells everybody. Liar she is. Nothing new. Anything else?
Rookie: (Excitedly) She has spoken for half an hour. I have a huge interview. Have asked her 21 questions. Basically, I have extracted everything from her.
Senior Reporter (butting in but softly): But hasn’t the PR asked that the brand be mentioned at least once.
Rookie: No. But she has specified that we should, at least once, mention that she likes clean-shaven men and not men with scrubby cheeks.
Senior Reporter: I don’t think we can do that, hai na? (Looks at the editor)
Rookie: (in a pleading tone) Just that one line in exchange of a thirty minute exclusive interview…
Senior Reporter (Stopping Rookie Reporter mid-way): We cannot do that. Listen, I have an idea. we will meet Ms X again next week because her film is coming up. We will combine the two interviews together and publish it. Isn’t that a great idea?
(Editor nods in agreement)
(Dissolve. Two days later. Edit meet)
Editor: We now have a fantastic interview from our Senior Reporter where Ms X is talking about her forthcoming film. She basically reveals her entire role. Do we have some exclusive stills from Z (mentions the film’s PR)?
Senior reporter (proudly): Yes, we have.
Editor (turns to the desk head): Listen take the full interview and take best question from the interview of the Rookie. Give the byline to Senior Reporter and at the end of the interview mention that Rookie has provided her inputs. That’s about it. It is our lead story tomorrow.
Rookie (very softly. Trying not to offend the editor): But tell me, isn’t a film a brand too? Aren’t we actually promoting the movie as a brand by talking about the role of the actress? Whereas in my article there is no direct brand mention. I wanted an oblique reference. My interview can no way be a brand plug. Can’t my interview go separately?
Senior Reporter: We have been working for eight years with my editor (looks at Mr Editor) and we understand brand plugs better than you. Instead of bickering in the newsroom, go and get a better interview next time.
(Rookie stops ‘bickering’ but inside she feels like crying out loud. Zoom in to show that her eyes are welling up).
Important disclaimer: Though the conversations presented might be slices of a rookie entertainment journalist’s work-life but I have taken creative liberties while presenting them. It doesn’t, in any way, mean that these incidents have happened in a newsroom where I have worked as journalist. I have worked in five different newsrooms and have had colleagues from every newspaper and channel. You may also assume that the situations presented below are imaginary. I am not pin-pointing towards anybody or any media company. If you remember a similar incident, it will be nothing but a coincidence. It is a mere pointer towards some of the pre-existing norms in entertainment journalism. It is not a comment on any editor or media house. It is a comment on the state of entertainment journalism in India, which in my opinion, needs a drastic overhaul. Short-link of the post -> http://goo.gl/NzReTL