Friday, August 26, 2011

In the media jungle, who’s the lion?

In the media jungle, who’s the lion?
Hassan Shehzad
August 11, 2011
ISLAMABAD: At Chandni Chowk in Rawalpindi, two burger stalls are set up parallel to one another. Both are strung with self-same banners reading ‘Asli Mamoo Burger’ (Real Mamoo Burger), presumably to help visitors locate easily what is what and what not is what.

But it is bound to confuse them more than anything else. Such was the situation at a seminar on the ‘Monotony of Media Opinion’ the other day when the chief guest, a star reporter plus editor of a top notch English language daily, declared: “A journalist is a reporter.” This, in the presence of some people from the editorial desks.

The incident was followed by a TV talk show conducted by an anchor who is rated the highest more often than not. Many anchors were invited in the programme, one of them being a reporter and famous for his uncompromising questioning about malpractices and woes of journalists, though his programme now has been put off air.

In the middle of the programme, he told another non-reporter anchor, wearing a triumphant smile on his face, “A reporter is, everybody knows, the real lion of jungle while all others are lions of zoo.”

These are not two odd cases. This psychology is rooted deep in media circles. You will see reporters staking a claim to every, that is any position in the media organisations, whether it fits them or not. In this chauvinism, they sometimes do more harm. You always need a right man for the right job to run an organisation.

Astonishing is the fact that non-reporters make for dominant part of journalists, however bluntly somebody may write them off. These non-reporters write less and decide more. They decide who should go where and which story should be treated in what manner. They decide the presentation of the stuff and the timing for picking up or dropping off an issue. In most cases, they even have to correct script of reporters. They set the agenda of media to be followed by reporters. They are editors, directors and researchers. And they are backstreet players.

The problem is more social than professional. Animals with strong incisors like lions eat others out, some of which put up stiff resistance and protect their domain. Strong incisors in media’s case is moving in the beat. But this strength is not to be applied everywhere, not least when it comes to managing media matters.

As a man needs a judge to settle a dispute, reporters need editors to take decisions on their work. If the former starts taking over role of the latter, it means objectivity and requirements for balance are compromised.

Since reporters are involved deeply, sometimes personally, in the stories, they mean to err if they replace editors until and unless they maintain a sheer sense of objectivity, which is rare.

It has been witnessed that front and back pages of the newspapers that have reporters posted as editors are always bustling with stories and readers fumble for any readable stuff on inside pages. It is because the reporter-editors lack the ability to decide distribution of material as for them, front and back are the only pages that matter and every story off these pages goes waste. They are prone to forget that ‘facts are precious, opinion is free’ and cross the line between opinion and fact with ease, which is why you see lots of opinions on their favourite front-back, not to speak of other news pages.

An editor is unfit for reporting as much as a reporter for editing provided that they get extensive training. So, it can be safely concluded that those who have written ‘requiem for copy editors’ are mistaken to some extent, though any cost-cutting measures are welcome in media industry nowadays.

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