‘Skeletal strength, shows hit’: NewsClick struggles to publish with borrowed devices

Its office has been unsealed, but staff are working from home amid ‘threat’ of further action.

WrittenBy:Pratyush Deep
Date:
A UAPA case, staff crunch and seized devices depicted as hurdles between a NewsClick journalist and his office.
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In police action against NewsClick last week, its office was sealed, its editor and administrative head arrested, more than 40 journalists linked to the outlet questioned, and many of its electronic devices seized

One week on, the news organisation has tried to keep up despite the shortage of resources. While the office was unsealed two days after the search, staffers are “crowdsourcing” devices and working from home amid the looming threat of further action. The editorial process has been “streamlined”, but content production is down to nearly half of what it was before the searches. 

“The enthusiasm to work is actually higher than ever. We are trying to do whatever we can with limited resources,” said Disha*, a NewsClick staffer, adding that “we never thought that every single employee – even those who are new and have nothing to do with decision making – would be targeted.”

“The first day, it was impossible to work because most people’s devices had been seized. So there was no way to contact each other. But from the next day, there were some people who were not raided and some who faced searches but were not detained or called for questioning. We are keeping things going with them.”

The NewsClick website had resumed functioning a day after the police action, with a statement on the raids and denial of all allegations. Since then, it has been trying to publish the usual editorial content, from articles to interviews and explainers.

During the search operation, the Delhi police special cell had seized almost all important electronic devices, including laptops, phones and hard disks  belonging to employees and the organisation. “There is nothing in the office apart from a few video cameras,” claimed a senior journalist at NewsClick, adding that there is no clarity about when the devices will be returned. 

Shows affected, reporters worst hit

A look at the NewsClick website suggests most of its content is from outstation journalists, from states such as Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Assam – no NewsClick journalist faced action in states other than Delhi, Kerala and Telangana.

Senior journalist Urmilesh’s weekly show has been delayed. “He is busy with the legal stuff and his gadgets have been seized. It’s difficult to predict when he will be able to resume his show,” Uma*, a senior journalist linked to NewsClick told Newslaundry.

The journalist said that the reporters are the most affected “as their gadgets have been seized”. “In terms of text stories, we are trying to put up four to five stories in a day. Earlier, the same used to be around 10 each day. We are mainly facing a challenge in producing videos as it requires devices and technology. Regular shows would take time to resume.”

Uma said that “a handful of us have borrowed devices from friends”  and are somehow managing affairs.

Production quality has taken a hit.

Bhasha Singh, who works with NewsClick as consultant and whose house was searched last week, uploaded a video four days after the police action. “You can see the video. There was no light or mic and even the camera was of poor quality. But the focus is on the content,” Singh told Newslaundry.

Meanwhile, a reporter, whose gadgets were seized by the police last week, detailed how she tried to report on a protest. “I have borrowed a phone…For bytes, I used the lapel of a fellow journalist.”

The video was then edited by a staffer whose house was not searched. “Even though it was not of very good quality, the response to it was very positive. There were a lot of positive comments. That motivated us more,” said Disha. 

‘Skeletal’ strength, from office to park

Uma said there are “only a few whose houses have not been raided and devices not seized. So, it’s a very skeletal staff strength but the spirit is high to continue our work.”

With multiple employees facing continued questioning by the police, staffers are working from home despite the office being unsealed two days after the searches. “Even though the office is open, people have this fear that the police will land up again. Right now we are a little bit cautious in terms of whether we should actually start functioning from the office or not,” said Disha.

However, that has come with its own set of challenges.

“We had to shoot a video in a park as you know it’s difficult to shoot in a room due to noise. We have no teleprompter. So one person was shooting while another was sitting on the ground holding his phone like a teleprompter,” said a production employee.

“Resources are limited in terms of cameras, mic, and who is going to shoot. Because every other day, our colleagues are being called for questioning. So people are not available,” said Disha.

‘Will get back to full capacity soon’

“Many of our employees have been called for questioning twice or thrice. Lot of them have been made to wait for eight to 10 hours and then questioning probably happens for just 10 minutes or half an hour or an hour. But the whole day is spent,” said Uma.

Another senior journalist from NewsClick maintained they are trying their best to get back to full capacity. “Once we are able to source devices, we will be able to.”

An outstation employee who has been working with the news outlet for more than three years told Newslaundry that they have been asked to file all pending stories and work as usual. “As of now,  things are not back to usual in terms of edit meetings and all. But efforts have been made to streamline everything.”

The absence of the editor, and a crucial meeting

In the absence of its founder editor Prabir Purkayastha, editorial decisions have been taken by a team of senior journalists, Newslaundry has learnt. 

On Sunday, a meeting of NewsClick staffers discussed several issues. 

Employees have been told to practise restraint while speaking to the media. The issue of salary was also discussed and employees were assured that the organisation will approach the court if the company’s account is frozen, Newslaundry has learnt. 

Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court has reserved its order on Purkayastha’s petition challenging the police custody.

* Names have been changed to protect identity.

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