Sunday, November 26, 2006

When Money Beats The Story

A journalist from an English newspaper in Singapore this week shared with me about how some good stories that he or some other journalists wrote were often killed by their editors.

This was, more often than not, due to the intervention by some individual from the advertising team who took the view that running such a story could affect advertising revenue.

The journalist is now thinking of leaving the profession, and wanted to hear what I had to say.

I know from conversations with other journalists that this is a issue that they too have faced. One journalist once vividly shared with me how he was made to write all sorts of stories to please a key advertiser.

An editor of another English newspaper shared with me how often some articles were watered down to put a more positive spin on the story in order to avoid ruffling feathers.

Such journalists, who share these stories, are often facing a crisis where their own conscience seem to disagree with their organisational priorities.

A long-standing observer of Singapore, Eric Ellis, recently highlighted another practice in his article, "Could Singapore Have Feet of Clay?", dated 24 November 2006.

This article reflected about the things news-makers have to sometimes contend with in order to have their stories featured by Singapore media.

In the article, representatives of one such Singapore media were "unimpressed with the generous 66% reduction" offered by a resort owner to be featured in an "eight-part series program [that] would highlight Asia’s chic resorts". The representatives desired to "receive complimentary accommodation".

The retired Editor-In-Chief of Singapore Press Holdings, Cheong Yip Seng, is said to have shared "in a speech that the three qualities a good journalist should have are sensitivity to a changing environment, skilful writing and good old-fashioned legwork".

To these qualities can be added another: management of the interests of a newsmaker or an advertiser in the context of one's conscience.

Being asked to do something by an employer or another person of influence, which one may not wish to do, is a problem not just unique to journalists.

It is an issue one finds in other professions too, including the legal profession. For example, when a lawyer is made to prosecute or defend someone he does not wish to.

My own advice to a person, who is asked to do something by an organisation that is out of place with the person's own values, is really that of my mentor - walk away or resign.

Most do think of leaving but a majority do not for a variety of practical reasons.

For example, they need the job for the running of their households or they have signed fixed contracts with their employers.

Simply put, the opportunity cost is too high and it is difficult to bite the bullet.

They thus swallow their conscience and choose to take the path of sacrifice and suffer.

Yet, the few who sacrifice by leaving their roles, tell me how their lives have improved since they left.

Most earn as much, if not more. And even more love and enjoy what they do now, which in turn enables them to be more positive.

Dharmendra Yadav

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