No news organisation can reasonably claim to speak for all its employees on matters that are up for debate. It isn’t a healthy practice for journalism.
“Koi system perfect nahi hota, usko perfect banana padta hai.” These words were uttered by the young air force pilot Ajay Singh Rathod, played by R Madhavan, in one of my favourite films, Rang De Basanti. I really like this sentiment, which is close to an entreaty that I also really like, “Can you leave the situation better than you found it?” The “best and brightest”, especially among policymakers and economists, often assume they can crack the perfect model or policy prescription, not rarely with dire consequences. A humbler and more effective approach in my view is this: can you improve upon what you inherited? Perfection is a work in progress – forever.
This idea is what gave birth to Newslaundry.
The news industry in India had settled into conventions and systems that were almost set in stone because they had not been challenged for far too long. One of these dogmatic conventions (at the heart of which lay the ad-funded revenue model) was the “editorial position” of the news organisation which Newslaundry broke with when we started in 2012. I’m talking about editorials or columns titled “Our Take” or “Times View” and, commonly across newspapers, unsigned editorials that supposedly conveyed the organisation’s position on the matter being discussed. A position that presumably reflected, in a few hundred words, the views of all its employees. We at Newslaundry believe that on matters of policy, governance, law, rules and suchlike, different people can have varyingly rational views. A roomful of people agreeing with each other all the time cannot be a roomful of very smart people. At Newslaundry, we believe that each individual can have their point of view and, if and when it’s expressed in, say, an article, it must carry the name of that individual, whether they be a Newslaundry employee or a contributor.
Are Special Economic Zones a good or bad idea? Are banks or capital markets underregulated or overregulated? Should India have a uniform civil code, and who should decide its contours? On such policy issues there will always be multiple points of view across social, political, religious spectra. I don’t believe one view – or “our view” as the convention goes – can convey the thinking of everyone in the organisation on such a matter.
This concept may have had merit once, but not anymore. If anything, it can damage the very foundation of journalism, which rests on, or at least should rest on, ground reports. Ground reports are voyages of discovery. When a reporter goes out to pursue a story, they build it on the facts they find on the ground. If an organisation has already taken a position on the story, the reporter would not be able to pursue it with a sense of curiosity and discovery. They would rather go looking to prove the “position” of their organisation. Often several truths can be sacrificed at the altar of this homogeneous viewpoint. And most often there are several truths. This convention of taking an “editorial position” inhibits the natural instincts of a reporter, compromises journalistic integrity and stunts the growth of a healthy news ecosystem. This is why, at Newslaundry, we don’t have editorial positions on matters that are still being debated and discussed.
Does this mean we have no organisational view on anything?
No, we most certainly do. Ordinarily, those kinds of things need not be articulated and, until not very long ago, were treated as a given. However, one gift of the digital age and the social and political conventions it has engendered, is that questions settled decades ago are now being revisited. These aren’t policy positions or editorial positions. They used to be called human values, which we at Newslaundry still hold dear. Is it a good idea to discriminate on the basis of gender, colour, religion, ethnicity, etc? No! That debate has long been settled, it’s not a policy position, it’s a basic human value.
These days, trolls, from those on social media to those in the halls of power, can often be seen appreciating the virtues of the caste system or condemning same-sex relationships. For us, these are human values, not policy positions. So, yes, we believe that baby girls must not be killed or denied adequate nourishment because they were born girls even though there may be people who do. Such people cannot work at Newslaundry. We believe killing people because they disrespected your god or belief runs counter to basic humanity and rationality. There may be people who think that is fine, they are not welcome at Newslaundry. Period.
We believe, firmly, in universal human values that are not up for debate, values that make us decent and civilized. But for anything not settled yet, having an organisational viewpoint isn’t our style or, we believe, good for journalism.
We believe this is a better way of doing journalism than the one we inherited. It’s still only an improvement, it isn’t set in stone. We certainly hope that another bunch of restless folk passionate about news and the truth will improve upon this and render us relics. We look forward to that because, well, koi system perfect nahi hota, usko perfect banana padta hai.
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Newslaundry Explained is a series of articles that breaks down questions about our editorial philosophy and subscription model.
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