Book Review: Making News, Women In Journalism

Posted on April 30, 2013 in Specials

By Babita Balan:

Making News, Women in Journalism is written by Ammu Joseph who is also the co-author of Whose News?. This books is primarily based on inputs from 200 journalists in print media through one-on-one interviews and 35 responses through questionnaire. The book was recommended to me by Smruti Koppikar, a senior journalist and professor. She is quite often quoted in the book too. The book traces the transformation of women journalism in India from the late 1960’s and 70’s to 80’s and 90’s.

Donne-giornaliste

The book starts with a debate on the term ‘Woman Journalist’ and how many find the term demeaning. Highlighting gender can work against their professional interests, others feel the need to acknowledge gender in order to create role models while some find the term inferior when used in the male company. However, they agree that being a woman influences the way she carries on her duties and how she draws a conclusion over the same issue. However, opinion may depend more on an individual interview and conviction than on gender per se.

On whether women journalism has a special responsibility on account of their gender, arouses strong feelings. While some reject, some others accept the additional responsibility. Yet, others see women’s issues as just one of the many issues. Some women see it as question of professional responsibility.

According to Smruti Koppikar, Outlook, “Women issues are part of the basket of issues. I would push to write on not because I am a woman but because they are important and they relate to a section of society that doesn’t easily find a voice in the media.” Sandhya Taksale, Sapthahik Sakal, Pune says, “If you are interested in something you should focus on it not do something to show others. Your own interests and concern should be your guide. Ultimately, you have to be true to yourself. Women journalists are good listeners.” Shobha De puts it as, “Women are seen as reservoirs of empathy. This makes men especially less guarded and more open

The glass ceiling that operates in Indian journalism has been scrutinized here. Women in journalism today do more of reporting than analyse, more men are in editorial boards than women. The few women in this country who sit in media boardrooms do so because of the privilege of birth. By and large, most of the women journalists are employed at the junior middle and feature editor levels. Several are columnists.

Whereas, if one looks at the Indian television, the glass ceiling is far less pervasive than in the print media, according to the author. Their pervasive visibility on the TV screen in studios of editing rooms and in the decision making corridors of TV channels and major production houses has contributed substantially to the mainstreaming of women in this profession.

From mere reporting on flower shows in the 60’s and 70’s, women were put on to fashion, entertainment, and beauty in the 1990’s. Eventually wide range of important events and processes relating to human rights, justice, development, society and culture became their beats. The old assumption that women are cut for soft news and men for hard news is also debated. Some women are of the opinion that hard stories are easier to cover when compared to soft news. This is primarily because politicians are more than willing to be quoted and reports requires one to go through the press release.

Even young journalists soon discover that reporting politics is not what it is made out to be. One of the journalist says, “I was very impressed with the elite crowd of senior political journalists and their proximity to power. But now I realize that is all just an illusion.” While in many parts of the country especially vernacular press, women are restricted to desk jobs. International and national news too are kept out off their limit.

Another important issue discussed here is Night Shifts. Women are not put on night shifts because that would mean providing transport facilities etc. but women journalists say that this is just one way to justify keeping women out of serious journalism.

The chapter ‘The Enemy Within‘ gives accounts of sexual harassment, unwanted advances, indifferent managements, professional demotion, personal vendetta, uneasy relations, generation gap, constant irritants and character assassination. Ideology has a major impact on career paths in media. Especially individuals with strong opinion on certain issue. Many also believe that the attitudes of newspaper proprietors and management inhibit their rise to the top in many other ways. Proprietors assume that women will make fewer compromises. It also looks at how in the 1990 Indian press is drifted from seriousness to superficiality and from societal concerns to societal affairs. Some claim that the turning point came with the advent of economic liberation and globalization. This brought in a wave of consumerism which swept into media organizations.

While according to many others the emergence of television turned the tide for journalism in India. Infotainment became the new buzzword even in print media. Issues are certainly less important now. They point that proprietors and management are exercising more control than ever before on editorial matters. Many of the new publishers seem to be more interested in the power and prestige that came with a publication than in running it properly. Celebrity journalism has crept in.

The main purpose of journalism in the 1970’s and 80’s was activism, journalism is not a mission any more. What sells is what is wanted. They are no longer social reformers. Newspapers are not anti-establishment. Even readers seem to have started to comment on the low standard of language and news reports. Murdochisation of the press is a global phenomenon. Marketing is a fact of life now. Newspapers are dying. But Bachi Karkari is of the opinion that, “The mainstream paper cannot go in too much analysis, there are specialized publications for that.”

The chapter ‘The Generation Gap’ has senior most journalists rambling over the negative aspects about today’s young women journalists. Many describe the new generation of journalist as lazy, pushy, brash and arrogant. Shobha De terms it ‘me’ oriented generation. They prefer air-condition journalism. They are poor listeners, say many. They seem to be more concerned about their own careers than anything else. They treat job as a stepping stone to something better. They don’t see the difference between public relation and journalism.

Not all is true, according to me. The young generation entering news industry does not have any family background in the news media as such. The reason today they are in the news industry is purely because they are interested in journalism. This is evident, when one looks at the virtual explosion in the number of women in the Indian press especially based in Delhi and Mumbai. In some news rooms, the 50-50 mark is crossed and are on their way to becoming female dominated. They cannot be expected to have knowledge about all the issues. None of the journalists quoted in the book were any different when young. They too have learnt the traits of the job and issues as they climbed the ladder. The young generation looks up to these veteran journalists and hence they need to be supportive rather than cynical.

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