Making News, Breaking News, Her Own Way

Posted: May 3, 2012

Making News, Breaking News, Her Own Way is a collection of essays by award-winning female journalists, edited by Latika Padgaonkar and Shubha Singh.

Review By Anjana Basu

All the women media persons writing in this anthology have one thing in common. They were winners of the Chameli Devi Jain Award. Chameli Devi was an ordinary housewife from Delhi who got caught up in the freedom struggle, was arrested and sent to Lahore Jail because of her courage and independence. Her family partially funded the award that carries her name.

It is an award given to women who have distinguished themselves in the media field and the first award was given in 1982, when women were gradually beginning to make an impression in the media but still had to struggle to be noticed in the face of male domination. The arena for women then was still restricted to covering beauty pageants and flower shows.

Today the media world has changed. Television has seen women at the front in Kargil tackling harsh conditions to bring a story of suffering and gallantry to the world and, in so doing, display shining courage under fire. No field is forbidden, whether it is corruption, child labour or caste massacres and women have fought boldly for human rights using the many types of media at their disposal.

The book is a collection of essays written by the awardees. It is obviously not a coincidence that they represent India’s leading media persons. Names like Barkha Dutt, the late Homai Vyarawala, one of India’s first women photojournalists, Tavleen Singh and Madhu Kishwar to name a few. It chronicles the changing world of the media, from the days when journalists tapped out their stories on battered Olivetti typewriters and had to rely on the post office or the telegraph to get their coverage to the papers on time, to today when instant communication and on the spot reportage has shrunk the globe and changed audience response.

Media women have come a long way and this book of essays provides valuable coverage spanning the changing time frames. What is perhaps a little disheartening is the fact that the essays are all responses to winning the award and outlines the work that each journalist did to be chosen. ‘When I was chosen for the award I was…’ or ‘To be frank a journalistic career was hardly in my dreams’ is the kind of phrase that appears time and time again, causing the reader to stumble a little in the flow of inspiration.

What I was expecting when I received the book was the actual story for which the award was finally given – though yes, the award is for a body of work and it might be difficult to pin it down to one piece. There are insights – Barkha Dutt talking about how she was inspired by her mother Prabha, or Pamela Philipose saying that, “Legwork and observation combined with powers of imagination” were crucial ingredients in a good newspaper story.  And a few actual stories like Ratna Bharali Talukdar’s on witch-hunting in Assam.

For a young woman journalist in the making the book is invaluable since it outlines many of the problems behind the scenes and since quite a few of the essays expand on the difficulties involved in breaking through the glass ceiling in the male dominated world. Rehana Halim’s piece for instance describes the birth of the women run paper Newsline in Pakistan, made possible because Zia ul Huq’s plane crashed at the right time. She says, “Had the General died a week earlier…Newsline would never have been born”. That would surely be a revelation for women journalists in India who do not have to crash through doubly insulated glass ceilings to make an impact.

With me, one essay strikes a chord, Nirupama Subramaniam’s. She writes, “I do not think of myself as a ‘woman journalist’. I am a journalist full stop.”  Journalist or media fan, in the end this collection is about the value of the Fourth Estate, the long hard journey to the 21st century and the importance of reporting the complete story. 

Publishers: Tranquebar Press

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