Barkha Dutt has had a long journey in journalism. She describes covering the Kargil war in 1999 and the Covid pandemic in 2020-21 as the bookends of her career.
A veteran TV journalist, Barkha quit NDTV in 2017 and launched her own independent media organisation, Mojo Story.
Her new book, To Hell and Back: Humans of Covid, recounts countless stories of grief, grimness and goodwill that she encountered over two years of travelling across the country to report on the pandemic.
In this interview with Manisha Pande, Barkha speaks about personal experience, from reporting the Covid story to becoming it when she lost her father to the virus in April 2021. She describes harrowing cases where medical workers were attacked, why she refused to report on the 2021 assembly elections, and the divisive role played by Big Media during the pandemic.
Given the decline of TV news, she firmly says she would not advise a young journalist to join the broadcast industry today.
On billionaire industrialist Gautam Adani’s takeover of NDTV, Barkha says most of the news channel’s senior management didn't know until much later about another billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s loan to NDTV, which would prove crucial to Adani's takeover. This should compel us to talk about the revenue model of TV news, she argues, which is dependent on big businesses and governments, and what that means for the editorial integrity of a news organisation.
The conversation also spans the Radia tapes scandal, access journalism, the 2002 Gujarat carnage coverage, work-life balance, and the question of media regulation.
Independent journalism is not possible until you pitch in. We have seen what happens in ad-funded models: Journalism takes a backseat and gets sacrificed at the altar of clicks and TRPs.
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