It's a sad day when I - a journalism student - am able to say with absolute confidence that I know more about what makes "news" than India's leading national paper. I don't mean to imply that I'm a journalism guru, but recent events have proved it's not very difficult for anyone to claim they have a better sense of the news agenda than the Times Of India.
The storm against TOI's lack of editorial sense began with a tweet (for isn't that where most storms begin?). A video angled at a Bollywood actress' breasts was accompanied with the words: "OMG: Deepika Padukone's cleavage show!"
Actress Deepika Padukone was quick to react to the tweet:
Supposedly India's 'LEADING' newspaper and this is 'NEWS'!!?? pic.twitter.com/D3wiVVXuyM— Deepika Padukone (@deepikapadukone) September 14, 2014
YES!I am a Woman.I have breasts AND a cleavage! You got a problem!!??— Deepika Padukone (@deepikapadukone) September 14, 2014
Unfortunately, their storm didn't end with Deepika's less-than-impressed reaction and things only went downhill from there. There have been a lot of articles circulating the Internet since the incident, with many people criticising and condemning TOI - and rightly so. In fact, the article about Deepika was not TOI's last blunder. A few days later the publication wrote a piece titled "Hot babes with ugly legs", in which their journalist took the time out to write a senseless piece about celebrities who they think don't have nice legs.
I realised at this point that perhaps TOI needs a little help. So I thought I would use the valuable lessons I have learnt throughout my journalism course to impart - or drill - some editorial sense into the heads of India's "leading" journalists.
Lesson One: Women having boobs isn't news
We spend a lot of time at university learning about what makes a news story. We're taught to take into account a number of different factors, but then those factors tend to change based on who your audience is. It's definitely a tricky one and not everyone is able to grasp the skill immediately, so maybe it's unfair to blame TOI for getting it wrong from time to time.
On the other hand, it's important to note that that not one of my fellow classmates ever pitched "woman has breasts" as a news story to our professor. Something to think about, TOI.
Syrians dying in thousands is news. The spread of Ebola is news. Coverage of the UN General Assembly is news. A woman who has cleavage? Not news.
Lesson Two: When trying to defend your publication's sexist actions, don't say more sexist things
A few days later, TOI's Senior Editor Priya Gupta posted a response to the actress' comments. Usually when a publication is accused of insulting someone, an apology, and sometimes a retraction, will suffice. TOI decided to go a slightly different way. They did delete their tweet, but their printed "apology" turned out to be far more insulting than the original tweet.
The newspaper printed an article titled "Dear Deepika, our point of view..." that accused the actress of "hypocrisy" because she had previously "flaunted" her body on red carpets and at photo shoots. Apparently all of this "flaunting" makes Deepika's body fair game to the media.
The response was also complete with photos of the actress on the red carpet, with arrows pointing to her breasts - just in case we had once again forgotten TOI's breaking news about women having breasts.
Lesson Three: Your actions cannot be justified by the nature of online journalism
After the "journalist" is done accusing an actress for having a female body, the publication then tries their best to tug on the strings of some journalism school textbook knowledge by stating:
"Yes, the headline could have been better. But the world of online is very different from that of newspapers. It is chaotic and cluttered- and sensational headlines are far from uncommon."
True, the world of online is very different from newspapers - at least TOI got that right. But that's where their sense seems to end once. Not only have TOI proven that they know very well how to objectify women and treat our bodies like objects to be drooled over, but they have also gone the extra mile to prove that they do not know the first thing about the journalism industry.
While all journalists these days are trained to learn the different between print and online media, it seems TOI journalists paid attention during the first class, and were then off marveling in amazement at the fact that women have women body parts. If they had chosen to pay attention for just a little longer, they might have caught onto the fact that just because the world of digital media is different and more fast paced, that does not mean journalists should discard their responsibility to be moral and ethical journalists above all.
Yes, it is true that the rise of the Internet requires journalists to create headlines that are eye-catching and attention-grabbing. But that can, and is, being done without bowing into a form of journalism that is immoral and insensitive. TOI's absurd comment has dismissed the brilliant work of many journalists around the world, who are able to attract an online audience and are doing so without objectifying women's bodies. It's insulting to journalists everywhere to have this publication say that digital media calls for sensationalism. It does not. And the rest of the industry does not stand by you in support of your claim.
There's a lot that needs to be said to the journalists in TOI's newsroom - and there's certainly a lot for them to learn. One young journalist from a youth publication in India wrote a brilliant piece summing up everything that is wrong with TOI's coverage. Opening with the words "Today is a sad day in Indian journalism," Youth Ki Awaaz are a prime example of a publication that knows how to report on events, and knows how to do it well and with their integrity intact. Perhaps this is a wake up call to the people of India - it's time for the "leading" publications to take a back seat, and let the next generation of leaders take the spotlight.
Until then, Times of India, you've just been given your first lesson in journalism. Maybe one day you'll be qualified enough to regain our country's respect for you as journalists.