The Weekend Leader - Ethics of Journalism

‘Sex is OK: in the bedroom, not at the workplace’

Pranay Gupte


Vol 9 | Issue 14

I have been in journalism for six decades. It's been a school of hard knocks, sometimes brutal ones, a lifetime of lessons learned and re-learned. And notwithstanding the many heartaches, it's been a whole lot of fun.

I was once asked by students at a journalism school to offer counsel about some of the lessons I've picked up during my career as a newspaperman. This is what I told them: the Pranay Principles (which I post from time to time):

In the journalism business, you've gotta be ambitious. (Photo: IANS - for representational purpose only)

You have only one constituency in journalism: your readers.

Never forget who signs your paycheck: Your publisher. It is his newspaper. It is her newspaper.

A journalist is, above all, a story-teller.

Write simply and clearly.

Use verbs liberally.

Use adjectives sparingly.

Don't just tell: show and tell.

Use short sentences. (Hemingway is a great guide)

Make that extra phone call on your story before you write it.

Read your own story before sending it to your editors.

Journalism should be fun. If it isn't fun for you, then get a job in some other field—like coal mining.

All news institutions have their flaws, just like humans do. Instead of just grumbling, make specific suggestions for positive change.

The purpose of newspapers is to educate, inform and entertain readers.

Get the following right: names of individuals and institutions; ages; titles; revenues of institutions, and the number of employees.

Instead of gossiping, read a book. Read anything and everything, all the time.

Sex is OK: in the bedroom, not at the workplace.

Take your job and your editor seriously, not yourself.

In the journalism business, you've gotta be ambitious. If you don't wanna be famous, then join an ashram and meditate on your navel.

Newsrooms should be a no-smoking zone.

Always be polite to people, even if you think that you’re smarter than them.

Smart journalists always smile—sincerely.

Listen to people: you will get some great stories that way.

Always be fair to those you write about. How would you like to see yourself maligned in print for the entire world to see?

Avoid anonymous quotes, especially “attack quotes.” And be sure to obtain permission and offer appropriate attribution if you are using previously published material relevant to your story.

Give as many details as you can in your stories: colors, smells, sizes, shapes, flora and fauna. Stories should be word pictures; they should transport the reader to where you, the reporter, have been.

No matter how smart you are, it must show in your work. How else are people going to know how smart you are?

Being professional means never making excuses.

Always meet deadlines.

Explain, explain, and explain.

Always give context and background in your story. Don't assume that the reader knows.

Smart journalism means that you acknowledge your mistakes and quickly rectify them.

You gotta be sensitive to people's cultures, customs and traditions. Just because they pray differently or eat different foods doesn't make them inferior to you.

When in doubt, ask. An inquiring attitude never hurts a journalist.

A successful newspaper is the result of disciplined team work.

Learn the intricacies of social media; learn how to code.

Working together doesn't have to mean shelving your ambitions. It means channeling them better.

There's little point in shouting at people. Better to sweet-talk others into doing what you want them to do.

A well-timed joke often defuses a tense situation.

Make others feel good about themselves after they've talked with you.

Never put others down, especially in public.

Believe in yourself.

Don't try and teach your grandmother how to suck eggs.

If you feel like saying something nasty on paper, don't. It will always come back to haunt you.

Love your employer but not too much: Never forget that once you've outlived your usefulness, you will be tossed out. But never fear: your loyal dog will always welcome you home.

About the Author: Pranay Gupte is a veteran international journalist, editor, author, and media consultant. His new book, “Global Emirates: An Anthology of Tolerance and Enterprise,” is being published by Motivate in Dubai, and Rupa & Co. in India.

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