Escaping toxic newsroom spaces and online hate | Global Journalism Seminar with Dhanya Rajendran, Editor-in-Chief, The News Minute.
11:30AM Jun 21, 2023
Welcome to the Global journalism seminars. This is the briefing access to sources government persecution. So the challenges that face journalists are beyond our direct control. There are also some universal bugbears for those working in journalism, like by police culture and online harassment, we can address. We asked our journalist fellows if they'd ever worked in a toxic newsroom. 2% said yes. Asked which aspects of toxic newsrooms and impacted the work experience. The most common complaint is poor leadership and micromanagement 72%, and a lack of communication and transparency 64%. About a third also mentioned harassment and bullying, high pressure and unrealistic expectations and a lack of diversity and inclusion, half sighted inadequate resources. Today's guest is editor in chief Tanya Rajendra digital pioneer who co founded the new spin it and was recently awarded the 2022 Chameli Devi Jain award. Tanya is known for championing inclusive workplace practices, including diversity and strong steps to counter online abuse. That's the briefing Let's begin.
Hello, and welcome to What is the final conversation in our academic year here at Reuters in the University of Oxford. It's the global journalism seminar. We're feeling a bit bittersweet, but full of promise in terms of what our fellow journalists launch into. However, sadly, one of the realities that they go back to is often toxic newsrooms what we don't want this to be is an exercise in sort of self flagellation about how bad it is, but more a conversation about what kind of practical examples work, what kind of tools can be put in place and what you could really look to do in your own newsroom. I can't think of a better person to speak to the issue than your Rajendra and who as you just heard is the founder of the news minute. She is more than that. I think an incredibly brave boys. Don't go to Tanya if you want a sugar coated opinion. And as a friend, I think she's always been known for her absolutely no nonsense approach and I think that's what we all appreciate, for who she is, as also I think what she's brought into her own newsroom. Danielle, thank you very much for joining in. Thank you for being so gamely about it because I know you're not feeling well. And I'm glad that you could still join us because I think there's a lot for people to take away from this chat. And, you know, the introduction is that you're a pioneer and that you found it new the news minute, but I think it would be great for all of our audience to hear a little bit about your journalistic career because that's not the only thing you've done and you've actually been through a lot of news rooms of varying kinds before you decided to start something of your own.
Thank you Mithali for the tiny introduction. So I've been a journalist for 20 years. I started my job working for a news channel. Malayalam news channel Malayalam is one of the languages in India. In fact, one of the languages which sort of pioneered the news channel culture. So the first 24 Hour News Channel in India was actually in Malayalam and I was one of the first employees I worked out of India's capital, New Delhi, and I work in such a toxic newsroom that I took a train eight months or 10 months of the job, I took a train in unreserve compartment, which a lot of people who have not lived in India cannot imagine it's basically a train compartment where people without tickets just come it's very crowded. So from Delhi I took the ticket and just switched off my phone and escaped and came to Chennai after that I've never left the southern part of India and gone to work in any other places because my first experience is very scary. Then after small, small break or small stop at a newspaper, I joined one of India's new television channels called times now, I worked there for eight years. So a lot of people ask me, how did you survive there? So you know when the first experience is really bad and the second experience become bearable. So that is how I looked at it. Yeah, and then I found the news minute in 2014. Without any idea as to what I want to do, but I just knew that I cannot go back to a newsroom, which is, which is currently being done in India by different editors, whether it's TV or print, I was very clear that I don't want to go back to a newsroom than I thought. In India, you cannot take a sabbatical. If you take a sabbatical, especially when you are successful and you take a sabbatical everybody is worried for you, your family, your friends are constantly calling and asking what is your next job? When is your next job? So I had to have an ex job. Therefore I decided not going back to media. Let's start something on my own, which is how the news minute was started. And there was also this whole brick this whole vacuum to actually fill because in India a lot of news is very Delhi or Bombay driven and a lot of other states don't get the deal when news comes. So I thought we should report more from the states and put them on the national map
as you did and I think it was a first of its kind when you launched it. And that's really been the USP of what you drive at the news minute. My next question is kind of really broad and deep but I think it takes this conversation where we would like to, which is how do you to your mind define what a toxic newsroom is? And is that often a blurred line, especially in a profession like journalism? You know, you and I both know from experience from television industry, for example. For a long time the narrative was just suck it up. If you have a problem with this, go to the washroom, you know, cry it out and then get back to work and get on stream. Is it a more blurred line for journalism? And what do you define as the signs of a toxic Newspace?
So mentally, I would I mean, I can't describe a toxic newspaper because the most of people listening here I presume will are young journalist who will go back to jobs and perhaps take a break to study and will. Some of them may be freshers. I just want to say that sometimes we should not also throw around words when we say a place is toxic or a person is toxic. It becomes problematic, right? So like, I'm not someone who likes to throw away words, which is unusual, toxic or not. But I definitely feel that the culture of newsrooms is unhealthy in Indian Indian television space I have never worked in the print space, therefore I'm not aware of it and I shouldn't speak on behalf of the print journalist. But the television space in India is very unhealthy. And I think the problems are the same that there is no respect for a person's time. There is always a sense of urgency and emergency pushing. People continuously meet deadlines to follow story to produce it and you're not appreciated. If you take an off. You cannot take your leaves and there is a lot of yelling and screaming. I think people working in some of the other countries may not even be able to imagine the kind of belittling, which happens in Indian newsrooms. I've had an editor whose throw a chair when he got angry. People throw stuff on other people's faces, they will not let you have a lunch or dinner breaks that is seen as you know as something as a reward. If you take a lunch break for more than a certain period of time, or even if you take a lunch break that's seen as breaking the shift and going so I think and the problem when the newsroom becomes really intolerable is when the top boss is doing that. He or she then makes the second rung do the exact same thing they do to the next batch and sort of everyone who comes into the system like I have been there. I have done it therefore I know how it works. Most of the time maybe I do not want to be that horrible boss but I have no other option because the person above me is driving me crazy. Therefore I drive other people crazy. So that is how most newsrooms work and I think in India, one huge problem is the lack of diversity in newsrooms, the lack of inclusivity in newsrooms, that I'm not talking just about gender, it's just not about having more women in the newsroom, but there's no intersectionality moves even if you have more women, they are not from, you know different cars or communities. For those who don't perhaps understand caste in India. Hinduism has something called past where people are born into certain cars and therefore, in most Indian newsrooms, for decades have been run by Hindu upper caste men. So the people who work under them are also Hindu, upper caste men or the others who become news leaders or Hindu upper caste women like me. So there is a lack of intersectionality in newsrooms, there is no diversity and that also really brings in a toxic culture because when someone else joins the newsroom, you do not know what to do with them. You do not know how to assimilate them how to listen to their lived experiences, and many cases they become isolated and they are forced to leave these newsrooms.
That's apps. And there's so much to unpack there. You know, the limited point of gender I will say it's what it's what statistics are bearing through as well. You know, at Reuters we've done a fact sheet on about 14 countries and we found that only about 22% of the 240 brands that we looked at had women editors, and that's just one spectrum of diversity, as you said, there's a whole lot else. Earlier this week we were speaking at the digital news report to editors across India, and some of them made the point that as persons from marginalized communities, young journalists are often choosing news platforms where they're paid far less only because they're treated better, as opposed to the way they're treated in some of these mainstream channels. So you know, how far did you think about diversity? And yeah, I mean, you know, did you sort of put in practical tools saying here's how we want to mix and match it? Or was it an organic processing, we're going to be as open as we can.
So it's been a combination of both literally, when I started the news mill, we had only three people at that time. I do not think of diversity on how to hire. See, generally what happens is when so I let me be very practical here. If I was working for a mainstream media organization, I don't think I would have become the editor at the age of 32 When I started the news minute. Now I am one of those statistics right when you count how many news organizations have women editors in India, I'm that statistic which has taken up the number of women editors, but the reality is I am that statistic because I started my own organization where I made myself the editor, but somebody else maybe the editor, definitely not and not at that age for sure. So now having said that aside when I first started I did not have the luxury of thinking that I will be diversifying. When I hire that thought came to me after only one or two years, because I realized that you know, news, when I started is the only three women in the newsroom. And when there were three women in the newsroom, I also realized that the way we look at things like even a small tribe is very different from how generally newsrooms look at things. Then I started thinking that maybe lived experiences matter in newsrooms, and we should have more women in the newsroom. So it was a conscious call, then hire more women, and not just as reporters but as editor editorial leaders. So we had our reporting head as was a woman we had our features that was a woman. Then we had our editorial desk head was a woman. So that was a conscious decision we took but after four or five years of having women leading editorial positions, the next problem or the next question before us was, what about intersectionality? We are all still upper caste women. So we needed to have people from other religions who are not just Hindus, we needed to have people from marginalized communities. So there was a conscious effort that by hiring, we will look at all this many times. We may not be able to hire the baby one many times we were not even unable to ask the question as to which community do you belong to? Because a lot of people do not want to be identified that way also. So it has not been a very easy process. But today we have a newsroom with six news leaders, of which four are women to our men. One man is a Muslim man and one man is a Dalit man, and there are four women out of which one is Christian. So, the thing is, it can always it cannot always be a conscious choice right because sometimes we also have to fill the vacancies and the only resumes we get are from a certain certain kind of people or from a certain group or religion or whatever it is, sometimes it is not possible. But wherever it is, we have tried, but I'm also realistic. We're able to do it because there are a small newsroom we have only around 30 journalists. If I was running a newsroom with way more people would I be able to do the same thing I do not know.
I might actually counter that by saying it's probably easier to do that in a large organization where you can put metrics in place and you know so much of what you're saying Tanya is the Indian experience, but I think for newsrooms across the world. There are people from indigenous communities, there are people from marginalized communities you know, it's when you start thinking about it consciously that you make space for those voices in the room. I'm going to pause here, my aced television skills seem to indicate that there's a glare which I will try and correct I hope this is better guys, and I'm sorry if you're all you're seeing is a shining beam the you know, diversity is one part of this, Tanya, in terms of when you were sitting down and thinking about what you wanted to put in as a culture. You know, it's sometimes easier to say we are okay with this. And more difficult to say we are not okay with this. Did you guys have you know three or four hardline saying this is a no go and there's absolutely no way we're going to allow this in our newsroom.
Um, see when compared to other Indian newsrooms, I think couple of things that we had very strictly decided is harrassment in the sense of sexual harassment to be very particular, about we wouldn't indulge with any freelancers. Anyone who, or any of our reporters have ever said has had us them has behaved in a suspicious way. We will immediately discourage any association with that person. But say I also want to just literally tell you about our own journey. So while yes, we did try about no talk about diversification and everything. When the pandemic started, people in my office, my colleagues did push back saying that things were getting very difficult for them. Because when the pandemic started, there was just so much news to deal with. And, you know, we were not able to get proper offset it was just getting too much. So I I also come from television, right? So I feel that people have to be available when there is news or I don't call people nor have they, but you know, it's drilled in my head that journalists have to be cognizant of what's happening around them. 24/7 I come from that culture, but I was told that look, hey, that is not fine. So two years ago, I think two and a half years ago, we decided to make from a six day work week. We made it five day workweek. That's not something which I agreed very happily, because I did not want to, but everybody said that that will make the news minute a better workspace and I thought okay, if everyone is really vouching for it, then let's do it. So we have a five day workweek. I think the the issue is that we have to listen, we just I mean, I just saw a question here as to someone asking how to handle bullying. Anything, anything that happens in newsroom. First in the newsroom has to be cognizant that these problems are happening that there is bullying in manual so there is harassment in my newsroom or people are not being on boarded properly. When newsrooms do not even understand that you know, we are always thinking I'm a journalist I'm doing this out of the world excise I'm saving the world I'm saving humanity I'm saving democracy and you know such an important job and you just ignore every other human rights in your own office. Because you feel that you're living for a greater purpose. So I think we have to pause at times and then look behind and see Are there people suffering because of us? Do people in our office feel that the culture here is not right? That kind of, you know, like a bookkeeping has to be done often. Otherwise, the cycle will not stop.
Yeah. I don't want to sound like a dinosaur, but I might. So you know, let me bring in generational diversity as well. Was that a challenge? As you said, You come from television, which is, you know, it's a function of the medium but it's also a function of the time that we were television journalists, you were meant to be on 24 hours. Did you have to do a lot of unpacking yourself as the leader of a newsroom while dealing with different generations that may have different ideas about how to be a journalist.
No definitely. I mean, in the beginning, I was quite resentful about it that many people who didn't I mean, if eight o'clock is the time that they log off, people do really dog off. And I couldn't first understand what has happened. I did, I did and I lose it only when, for example, a train accident happened recently but 270 people die. Now that's that's a that's an incident for which I think everybody has to be there and then you can't say eight o'clock, I will drop out of my shift right? It did take me a long time to understand that I also realized it. You know, you have to respect the different ways in which people work, I can still work 24/7 But that does not make me any less or any more of a journalist than someone who can do that much work efficiently within five days. So I'm okay with that now, but I'm not I don't want to pretend to be a saint. There are some times when I'm like, I wish people want more people were there for seven days. But clearly since we have a we have a policy in office I can't force people to
sound almost disappointed.
Now as if there are days like when you think why are people not reply, but I do tell my colleagues that I understand that everybody has their personal issues, you have to go back to your families. I have a lot of young women now office. Many of my reporters are in their 20s. So there's a lot of pressure from their families to get married. Very typical Indian problem, the families just want to get married. So there is a lot of pressure on them. Then they have friends they have to meet they have a life beyond office, but I do tell them that whatever problems you face, maybe you even have mental health issues, you have issues with your family, etc, etc. Yes, take time out for yourself. But remember that this is a job unfortunately, when you're telling stories of other people. So that one day when you are really down as a human being and you're feeling like you're feeling absolutely no positivity to go on. Unfortunately, somebody has died, or there is a story waiting to be written. Someone needs justice or someone needs help. There are those occasions when you have to put that thought about, you know, yourself a little behind and write that story. It doesn't come often. But when it comes I think as a journalist, you have to make that choice. I mean, unfortunately, the job demands that.
And I do remember, you know, it was it was quite a heartwarming example where it was around New Year's Eve, a couple of years back. I think that the news minute put out a note saying were shutting down operations for the next three or four days. If you want to get the news, go to another platform, because the big you know, was that were you sort of pushed into that decision. Oh, no.
I did it. I ended wholeheartedly because every 31st December I cannot sit in body who's on the shift is somebody putting the news there. Basically, when I was working for the TV channel, I was partying on 31st And I was drunk and I went home and I slept. On January 1, I wake up from frantic calls from my desk. Everybody's screaming at me because the hotel and I was partying in the next hotel, a swimming pool, they made a party. You know they made this whole floor on top of the swimming pool and they had a dance floor on top of swimming plan what which kind of a weird mix that and it collapsed and some two or three people died. So I was unaware of this and I slept. So I've been after I've never been able to celebrate New Year in peace. I'm always worried that something's happening with I'm not aware of. So I decided I cannot have that in my newsroom and nobody can celebrate new year because they are thinking that sub news is going to be missed. So we decided New Year we are shot 31st We don't put out any news. News will happen. It can't wait for the news minute or for Daniel for anyone read it elsewhere.
SharePoint is there you know just to go back to practical tools. Is there an SOP in place? I mean, for someone who is a part of the news minute and a journalist there or an editor there and feels like they would like to talk about an incident that they may see as you know toxic behavior. Is there an SOP in place and how do you create a space that feels safe? You know, sometimes as a junior reporter, it's not easy to go to your editor and say I felt very wronged about this. You may hesitate.
So we have different types of leaders. Of course. I may be the editor in chief but there are people who deal with this first the bureau chief we have five different states there are five bureau chiefs, who is your first level to go to if your problem. But if your problem is with the bureau chief himself or herself when you go to then you go to the next person who's reporting head of the executive editor, then you can always come directly to the editor in chief but there are layers and people are told that if you have complaints, please come and tell. And we have reviews every six months or every every year. So in these review meetings, people are encouraged but say despite all that I can guarantee and tell you that people don't open up about issues. Because there is a there is a culture of fear that you cannot speak up against your seniors no matter how friendly or how unfriendly the newsroom that the culture of fear still persists. I feel so we need to have more open conversations and tell people that look if you think the culture in the newsroom is not right and speak up about it. At least put your point across whether it gets solved or not. Is really escalator right. But put your point across
there's a question you're on exactly that. So let me prove this a bit further seeing especially in Asian newsrooms, there is this tendency to be sort of subordinate to someone who is above you. Do you inculcate that when you take people in saying, you know, we're not that hierarchical? Or is it just part of the community and people pick that up while working there?
I think people pick that up. A lot. People in fact, some times during the editorial meetings, when I say I don't like the story. We shouldn't do it and the reporter just keeps quiet. I'm taken aback. I'm like fight for your own story. Fight with me. Tell me I'm wrong. So from I think, I think dissent is something that we discourage in Indian young people, from your school to college to everywhere. You just disallow them from questioning anybody in authority. Your teacher says, your teacher hits you in school. You are not allowed to question your principal runs a school in a certain way you don't question dissent is something which we as a society discourage, and I think that comes that that just shines across. Every other job I feel in journalism is no exception.
Let me talk about a much broader issue because I think this is something that you speak to quite, quite openly which is online harassment and I know that you have faced a lot of fate and you've actually differently from some others chosen to take that on, you know, you frequently engage with the person who may have written a hateful comment, you respond to it, you provide answers. Was that a journey as well for you? You know, and at the start did you choose to ignore it? And then you thought, Well, what the hell I'm going to take you on? Yeah,
I will explain. I just read that question. Especially in Asian culture, there is a stereotype to obey whoever's in position. I agree with that. And I feel that it is very difficult for people to get out of that rut. And it becomes even more difficult sometimes in newsrooms when you're not allowed to question people in higher positions. And you know, there is really, for every problem that you face a newsroom. There is no one solution to it. It's how each person deals with it. You will have to figure your way out for example, when I was in TV, one simple problem that I faced is I would be aiming to do live coverage of things that I did not agree about. I did not want to do the coverage and I did not agree with that story. So what do I do I get shouted at if I don't cover the story. So one simple trick I you should do is that I'll put the earpiece and I'll pretend like I'm not able to hear the anchor. And I'll be like, hello, hello. So this is a funny episode. Just a funny anecdote I'm telling you, but
just imagine your news editor having you know
the the coping mechanisms are very different for each person, right? Unfortunately, if if the newsroom is really toxic, then at least five people who are brave enough will have to come together and fight it now to the question of online harassment. So initially, online harassment was not too much because there were not too many people who are using I was one of those early journalists early adaptors of social media. So it started slowly and steadily. A few years ago, one of my first experiences of mass online trolling was when I wrote a very obnoxious tweet about a movie. And in the next three days, there were like 50 60,000 tweets calling me a prostitute. sex worker, rape threats, etc. From this actor's fans, that is the first time and it has nothing to do journalism. It is just that I as a journalist had a little bit of a following. Therefore, my tweet was more visible and but it had its own cycle from then I started getting abused. I mean, I don't even like to use the word toward because I feel that sort of brings down the intensity of the problem. We have basically been hardest online. And it just got worse and worse when more political parties started doing it. When the news minute became much more you know, vocal in what it believes in the harrassment was unbearable. So in the beginning, I used to feel very upset. I used to have nightmares about it. I couldn't sleep properly my eyelids used to shiver, and I did not know how to deal with it. In fact, I could not even vocalize it to my family to my office people because I felt like oh my god, people who think less of me if they felt that, you know, I'm being threatened online or I've felt I'm feeling harassed. So what happened is when after this actors episode got over, another woman went through the same experience as me, but she had it worse than me. So I reached out to her, saying that I understand how you feel, just shut off everything. We became good friends. And then slowly we made this whole gang of around five, six women who are all hardest online, but we could vocalize with each other. So one thing for me was to find that one one coping mechanism, which is a group of people who could understand and the second thing is that as an organization, each organization has to take online harassment very seriously. They cannot tell their voters. No, no, it's okay. Just leave it in mute and go, you have to understand that it is a problem. And once you understand as a problem, you have to tell your colleagues that okay, this is happening. We are we are aware of it. What do you want us to do? Do you want us to put out a statement? Do you want us to just mute the account for some time? Do you want us to block report people? This conversation has to happen in newsrooms, and of course, as a journalist, you have to figure it out. I mean, if you want to be in social media, you are going to get blowback for it How are you going to deal with it? The all the platforms themselves give you a lot of tools like block report nude, but beyond that, you want to file police complaints. Do you want to do something about it? These are choices you have to me. Of course for me there has been a whole trajectory from filing a police complaint now. I make I actually relaxed every week. I give myself at least 50 minutes to one hour. I just go through my account, see who's abusing me, and I throw them back. I made it a hobby because there's no other way out. Right? So when people think that, okay, she doesn't care if you're abused, they'll slowly stop. But I'm not suggesting that as a way out for anyone else. That is my own. My own way of dealing with it. You must find your way.
And I'm glad you brought that up because I think it's important to sort of create some insulation for people working within the newsroom and what they face with online harassment. Do you extend that to contributors Tanya, this is the tricky one for me where a lot of journalists today are working independently, you know, that's that's the way the profession has sort of moved, and often they find themselves quite alone. In a situation such as this where it is extremely toxic. It is a function of their work. They've written for a particular platform, but they don't belong to that platform. So they feel quite alone in this in this harrassment.
See, there are only very few ways in which we can help. One is to of course, reach out to them and say that, look, we are aware of the problem. We are there Don't worry. There was one story that we put out about slavery in the coffee estates of codigo which is a place in South India. Very highly educated people who run coffee estates and that was perhaps a story for which we got the most amount of threads written by a freelancer. So finally we do large fine, we are aware that this happening if you need any help you come but it is much more difficult with our business. There are freelancers who face harassment because of the story mean legally if there's a legal issue, we can help them but beyond upon there is there's not much that we can do as a platform. We can simply maybe put out a social media statement saying that we stand with them. We have not faced it too many times except for this one or two occasions. And in the newspaper. It's a bit strange when I tweet, people get a lot of hate. So I generally if it's a very controversial take, I tend to not tag the person because I will be dragging hate onto their timeline. So I tell them there's a reason why I didn't tag you because then I will be dragging that heat onto your timeline. But yes, this is a question we have to really ponder. And freelancers in India do a lot of really important journalism, especially reporting on the fastest tendencies of the government.
Yeah, and I know you're being a bit nonchalant about it, but it can't be easy to sort of identify yourself as that. You know, as an editor, you're tweeting out a story, but you're also aware that it brings all this hate with it. Has that been difficult? And yeah, the fact that it's still toxic, it's just shifted from inside the newsroom to outside the newsroom and into the social media platforms.
It difficult in the sense that it doesn't upset me anymore. See, forget what your personal feelings are right for you. I think what all young journalist, senior journalists, what everybody needs to know is that the abuse and the harassment is one side that is fine. We will deal with it in our own way. Maybe we will not deal with it. I've seen people having breakdowns because of that. I'm going to leave that aside. The other is of pressure to operate in a certain way to write a story in a certain way because all these people are telling you your story is wrong, your bias to write differently. I think that is what we have been more aware of that the kind of pressure which comes from social media, especially if political parties are behind you. They don't like the way that you're writing things. They are going to make their bots so like 1000 2000 people coming and abusing on a daily basis. And then what happens is, first you self censor. You self censor on social media. I don't write a lot of things on social media anymore because I'm like, Why waste my time getting abused by some people. So I don't write things. But the moment I self censor my work, I believe that, oh, I shouldn't write about this particular issue because the government will be angry with me or the political party will be angry with me and they will harass me. That is a real danger of social media that it is actually making journalists get scared and they are self censoring their work. And would
you say that's feeding into the newsroom as well? And yeah, you know, the point that you made about being forced to cover a story or an event now in itself, it can't be labeled as clearly toxic. You know, it's not abusive. It's not harassment, but you are being forced to to a particular line, you're being forced to run behind, you know, a particular celebrity for a quote, there have been instances in Indian news media where they vaulted over the wall to get into the guest house and get, you know, a news bite in that sense. Has it become worse rather than better for neutrons
100% It's become worse. There's a lot of pressure to follow a story to follow a non story sometimes to follow a non news angle. And I think half of India's news channels do that anyway, all the time. They are just following these controversies on social media. For example, a few weeks ago, the Indian government had said that their PR department called the PID or the press Information Bureau will also do fat checks, which is the press Information Bureau will do a fact check if a story which is on a government policy is correct or not. And this department has a horrible history. Of doing all sorts of bad fact checks. So I had this organization called Digi pub, which is India's first digital net Digital Media Association. So we strongly oppose that the government cannot bring a fact checker like this, which is a PIB. And we're also going to code now two days ago, the so all the people in the BJP know that I'm one of those people who have been opposing this poll fact checking policy that they want to bring in. So yesterday, the Congress government in Karnataka also announced that they will have a fact check team for them. So I'm getting tagged and abused by everybody in the BJP saying, Oh, you oppose ours, why not opposing the Congress? Now if I fall into this game, and I make everything about what about Rio? I will, I will criticize the Congress and I will criticize the BJP and that is not my job. My job is to understand whether there is a fundamental difference between what the BJP and the Congress is proposing. If it is the same Yes, I will criticize both the same way. But 10 years ago, if this kind of harassment had happened on social media, big Trust me, I would have succumbed under the pressure and I would have done a story against the Congress immediately. But today, I know to give myself time to check what is the Congress suggesting they're suggesting fact check on social media? Till now they have not suggested a fact check on that on media houses the moment they do, yes, we will stand against it. But the problem is that, you know, it's like an echo chamber, right? People will just keep telling you do the story. Do this angle. You didn't do this. And a lot of journalists feel that pressure, especially if you're opinionated on social media, you can expect more to come up.
Let me bring in one of the questions that have come in.
I'm sorry, I'm keeping on shifting it's because I am.
Yeah, well, so that's why we're absolutely fine with you shifting. It's your voice really listening to this question online before I head to journalist fellows which says onboarding in newsrooms is a problem. I have seen that period when I was clueless about you know, what happens and how should newsroom seniors do onboarding for journalists. Do you do that and do you discuss things like you know, this is what we consider toxic? This is the kind of space we're opening up for you. So first thing
timesheets not just for the language, but for a lot of things, you know, on social media, how can you behave what are the what is the company expect from you? If you're covering a meet to a case for example, what is the company expected to do? How is what terms do you use etc. We have lot of timesheets after the lead on that, that we do have sessions they pay we talk about what is expected what is not expected and then slowly, we do tell them that lead Yes, in the newsroom, this is your immediate boss, the next boss, you can come and share your problems with them. But like I said, Maybe we don't do enough. The onboarding because somebody asked this question. I'm just thinking, the most of the onboarding is linked to work, how not to do certain work. How to do certain work, right? I don't think the onboarding is primarily about how does the organization function? How can you be safe within the organization? So maybe that's something to think about.
Okay, let me head to room where our journalist fellows are waiting by and I think some of them have questions. Is it unfold? Who is the first question? Hi, Dania.
I'm from South Africa. I wanted to ask you, you're an editor in chief, right? So you're sitting at the top and you've got people of seniors who report to you and they're responsible for the reporters that they leave and in a bid to try to create some form of accountability, what are your thoughts on a mutual performance, performance management performance appraisal kind of system, so right now, most newsroom have manager to reporter and that's how it works. And you as the editor in chief have to trust that the manager is doing all the things that they should do to make sure that the environment is safe for the reporter. But what are your views on having an adding another system on top of that way? The reporting is to give give some kind of feedback on the manager so that there's a bit more accountability and for you to have a little bit of an added layer of confidence in that the tools that you're setting into the newsroom are actually working both ways.
So like I said, there is a review, which happens every six months and then so in that review, people are it's not just the manager who sits in the reviews and other person also measuring the length which could be me or another senior so that these people are encouraged but one feedback that we got this time is that perhaps maybe the manager shouldn't sit in the review. So that's something that I need to think about, and then incorporate that. But yes, what you're suggesting is important. How do you tell young people again, again, that do come to you know, someone who's not your manager to share your problems? But like I said, we do have a three patch structure now. So hopefully that is happening. But as you know, most things we learn, especially when you run an organization, it's when a problem happens that you learn and then you want to change how the system has been operating. So yeah, I mean, last time is when I got this, this whole feedback that the manager should not even be sitting in the review, or that the manager should not be sitting alone in the review. So these are these are things that we'd have to change. Now.
I'm muted, Daria, go ahead and
thank you so much for this presentation of our time from Norway. I am wondering how you think as a cheap editor when when the people you have deployed are doing something wrong, and you're going to deal with it. For instance, if you have a middle manager who show signs of bullying, Junior journalists, when is the right time to like show zero tolerance, hire that maybe manager versus trying to correct the behavior. Because when when you have signs of bullying in a newsroom many more than the person does with the direct pick up on this with no tastes we'll start talking. The notion was bad people will be afraid that when you deal with it
the way you're dealing with it will be noticed by everybody. So I was wondering if you could like elaborate a little bit on how how does a top chief editor practically approach the situation?
I can give you two examples. One is that there is a particular manager who there was feedback that people are unhappy it was not exactly bullying, but it was perceived as bullying. Now why do I say it is not exactly bullying is because sometimes you also know Right? I mean, when there's a certain expectation a manager has of another person and the expectation doesn't meet, it becomes a very I don't know the whole environment becomes non conducive and that that is perceived as bullying by the other person. But the other person has to be also told that look, you are not meeting the expectations, which is something that you need to be aware of. And the manager has to know that when you're not meeting expectation, you cannot be rundown, contiguous, so that cannot be the solution. So the conversation has to be brought to both these people, not just the manager. Now one problem I've encountered is that when a manager is a bully, there are a lot of people who don't want to complain. So it just works like a whisper network in the office where everybody's telling each other and not me that this person is a bully. And when somebody comes to me secondhand and says this other person had this experience, I'm like Can someone please tell me so that I can raise it? This is something I face often, where people that's because like I said how much ever you encourage people to come and complain. I feel that that's that culture of silence is very prevalent. People don't want to actually complain, they feel like they will be singled out. They be looked as the troublemaker. So this is practically the problem I face that people don't want to if they are bullied, they don't want to give a complaint and then we are at a loss on how to be with it.
Um, here's an important question from one of our fellows who couldn't unfortunately be in the room. Tanya i n represents America and South Sudan and she asks, is there a way I answer you.
Thank you. This has been really great. Thank you for having this. I'm just wondering if there's a way to measure the financial cost of toxicity in newsrooms because I've seen colleagues who quiet quit I've seen colleagues who lose motivation at the expense of their performance and I have to imagine that at the end of the day, this consequence, part of the consequence is our bottom line. So is there a way to measure the financial cost of toxicity in newsrooms?
That's a very interesting thought the financial losses right. I mean, most of the acquisition in newsrooms is not even because there is one bully or two bullies. It's because the newsroom itself has a culture which does not allow people to stay for too long, especially when it's women in the newsroom. So what is I think? Yeah, that's definitely something we can look at. And it's not just financial loss, but it's also carrier loss for a lot of people. They come for this job. They work here three to five years and they realize that this is not doable, because the working hours are too stringent. The working hours are too taxing and especially the I mean, I don't know if I can speak for women across the world, but here at least, a lot of families don't want women to be in journalism because they feel it is unsafe. The officers do not give them a safe environment structure. And that structure itself is very patriarchal. So I feel that the loss is not just to the company, but it's also personal carrier loss to a lot of people, a lot of women especially were forced to leave and we don't account for it. So I think that's a really nice thought and maybe we should put a number to it. I mean, someone should do some research and put a number to this. I know this previous news channel I used to work with if I go to my Facebook account, and I choose one person who's a mutual, who's a friend who work with me, I may have 700 to 800 mutual friends because in the eight years that we've worked together, that many people have come and gone because they just couldn't survive the newsroom. And I'm not at all exaggerating. Sometimes I have 700 to 800 mutual friends with people simply because these are people who exited the newsroom and we were not even aware of it. Sometimes.
I say from Bangladesh has a question as well as it
started, you mentioned something really interesting. Oh, yeah. Oh, thank you for your presentation. You mentioned something really interesting that was a situation where you're assigned to do something but you're uncomfortable fulfilling the assignment because the angle is something you didn't agree with, or maybe the topic itself was problematic. How can you talk about that a little bit and also discuss how should use your managers deal with that sort of situation should Junior reporters be allowed to recuse themselves? How should this work?
No, definitely. I mean, so when people join at the news minute, I tell them first thing that if you're uncomfortable doing a story you have to tell us and the second thing is as a journalist, sometimes you go for a story, and you realize it should not be reported. Because the consequences that a person you report about that consequence that person is going to face is much more severe, will be much more severe. For reports. There are stories which don't write about the metoo away with the me to movement is an example there are a lot of people come to us because they trigger they're angry or sad. So I tell them that look, we should not be writing your story because in this moment of anger, you want to come out and speak. But there is absolutely no proof corroboration for what you say and the blowback that you're going to receive the legal repercussions are way too huge. Your question is about should journalists be told to say no to a story definitely. Stories that they're not comfortable with? Stories that they don't agree with? Stories that they feel are appropriation? Right. See beyond the point can a person from a upper caste in India keep on reporting about atrocities on lowered costs? Without getting into uncomfortable questions? How long can you allow that reporting? So these are questions that I have had Dalits in my news room who have come and told me that they don't want to report on violence on Dalits because it really makes them uncomfortable, sad and triggered. So then I have to remove them from reporting. So yes, this has this is a problem but see, I always wonder what happens to those journalists who work in right wing fascist newsrooms, right wing newsrooms. In India. The biggest problem is that most of our channels are more right wing than the party which loads the country itself. And they are very communal. They are highly bigoted people are working in those newsrooms without agreeing to any of these ideologies. And there is a huge discussion in India, whether these journalists deserve any sympathy at all, because they continue to work in these newsrooms, despite knowing the fact that these newsrooms are damaging our social fabric I mean, like a fox in America, if you can take a comparison, right? If there is a journalist working there, do you feel sympathetic for the journalist anymore because you have taken the job knowing what that channel stands for what the network stands for? So I don't know these are tough questions. You have bills to pay your family to look after. That's the only job you get. And in that job, where do you draw the line? I know of so many of my friends who worked in these channels or newspapers, and every single day was a struggle for them. Every single day they be asked to report news where they do not believe in it ideologically. So I don't know that there is really no one solution for it. But in an open newsroom. Every journalists should be told to voice if they don't want to a particular story or want to write about something.
Another question from Philippi open Ave from Brazil.
Hi there. Yeah. Hello. I think the there probably in the majority of the media houses across the world, there is a toxic trace that is related to the overload of work, and they always all am ready kind of lifestyle. And I was thinking how can we shift from dads who are proper work life balance culture, and that is really not just like blah, blah, blah in small talk, considering that we are kind of expected to be kind of workaholic Like always I'm always doing something always dig in stories. So how can we put in practice something more humane for our reporters? I
think, see, I mean, I understand all these questions, but the problem is, I mean, these are the things we're talking about every week here also right. But I feel like there's no actual change unless the leadership of an organization wants to push that change the industry itself does not have any roots. For example, the in India we have something called the wage board, which which actually prescribes what is the minimum wage for a person who works and journalism does not even come on to that. So people are really paid badly across journalistic organizations, because even our wages are not regulated. So it has to be company to company unfortunately, it has to be organizations which decide and there is really no other solution. Period lean, I know of one organization in India, which announced period leave for its women employees. One year later, we did a small check whether people are availing period the nobody wants because the men in the office are making fun of them saying oh, this just so you know, it's not just enough sometimes having policy. You have to have that workroom culture. How are you going to tell people in your office that I'm going to institute period Lee, you have to be welcoming of this policy and you have to make the women in your newsroom feel safe. So there is really no sorry, I have four cats and one dog. So somebody who's fighting that's where you do your question about how do we make things more humane it has to come from every single use and I do see change. I see that a lot of smaller newsrooms are changing. The reason because people like me have left those big newsrooms and come so we understand what was going wrong there. But the big newsrooms have to drive this change. For example, Reuters has policies right. The New York Times may have policies when it comes to diversity when it comes to hiring. In India, there are no such policies. So firstly, it has to be at a policy level. Second is to ensure that these policies are well understood in companies and there has to be a shift in the way we perceive journalism, that journalism cannot be a 24 hour 24/7 pressure cooker job where everybody just feels like they've been cooked every minute and they have to be at the beck and call of their bosses. Except when the when there is a real good demand. for it. I feel that the moment we realize that people are better workers, better colleagues, better employees, if they have a rounded life where they have families and friends to go back to it's not they have something to watch on TV. They just want to chill. They don't want to anything else. They don't want to work for two days. I think if we are accepted, we are accepting the culture. That's fine. I just want to say something one event that I was in, I was actually moderating the event when a senior journalist and I'm Senior myself but someone way more senior than me said that you should all be thick skinned when you're journalists journalists should be thick skin. So the younger a younger person that can immediately opposed saying that I don't think that isn't necessary. You don't have to be thick skinned to be a journalist you can be you can have any kind of skin and be a journalist. And you know, if you are in trouble, then it is for your newsroom to help you and I feel really good that in a huge auditorium with so many people, this man could become her boss in the next two years, but that did not deter her from saying that. So I think people making these points across also may help newsrooms change. So we need to cultivate that culture where people just say that is not that
we're completely out of time and you've done the big reveal, then yeah, which was going to be my last question saying where are the cats? Is that is that sort of part of the decompressing process saying okay, I'm done with the madness of work. I'm going on with my Furry Babies.
Yes. At 930 in the evening is my cat feeding routine where I feed my four house cats and then my feed tray get at that time, no matter what happens, I will not pay attention. So all seven days I do this routine. I'm not and by the way, the cat lady is actually very positive word. Please read about it. So I'm very happy to be identified as a cat lady. So newsrooms are difficult places. And the culture is unfortunately not I mean, I can only talk for the country that I work in. The culture is not changing very rapidly, but I think there is pushback now. And hopefully that pushback will work. More and more news organizations will realize that the like one of the fellows here was saying the cost of a toxic newsroom is high. The cost of the company itself is high. In fact, I mean, it's a brilliant idea when you think of it right when you are going to tell the owner of a newsroom that the cost of your toxic newsroom is high level of attrition. You know you are training people but they're just leaving your newsroom because you do not have a good newsroom can actually be an incentive to build a good newsroom. So I think maybe Reuters should think about doing some sort of a survey or what is the cost of a toxic newsroom. And that will force people if not anything else, the economics of it will force people to have better newsrooms.
No, I agree completely. And I was going to say I'm going to connect you and I and and I'm sure there's more that you all can both talk about to it. Thank you, Tanya. I know you're not keeping well. Thank you for making time for this. I wish one of your cats had sort of come prowling in and that actually
locked them up, which is the reason why.
But it's always a pleasure speaking with you and thank you for taking all our questions. On Thank you.
Thank you for having me.
Four everyone is in a new academic term. So take care of yourself student