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Aayush Soni
Media Minutes

Aayush Soni is a journalist based in New Delhi. Follow him on Twitter at @aayushsoni.

Making journalistic adultery look good

or the fifth anniversary issue, dated 15 April, Open magazine had such celebrated writers as Shashi Tharoor, Patrick French, Ananya Vajpeyi, Jug Suraiya, Sunanda K DattaRay and Tishani Doshi grace its pages. The byline I was most surprised to see, though, was that of Shekhar Gupta editor-in-chief of The Indian Express. A common practice in the Indian print media is that reporters, columnists and editors of newspaper or magazine cannot contribute to other similar publications. The idea behind the principle is that if a writer has a good story/op-ed piece, his/her employer should benefit from it – why should the journalist be allowed to commit adultery? To further reinforce the point and, I suppose, to lead by example, senior editors themselves seldom contribute to other newspaper/magazines, as a way of ensuring that their junior peers toe the line. It was, therefore, a pleasant surprise to see Gupta bend the rules with his Open piece, and I hope that he will allow his talented reporters to contribute to other newspapers and magazines because the principle he bent does a grave disservice to journalists. Especially those who work in small-circulation print media outlets.

Of course, I use Gupta and the Express just as examples- my clarion call is for editors (and Human Resource managers) of all publications. In a media environment already chocked with innumerable English language publications, it's becoming increasingly difficult for smaller and relatively new players to find readers. Often, it is at these print outlets that bright, young reporters, fresh out of college, cut their teeth in the profession and get bylines. Unfortunately, due to their employer's low readership, coupled with this restrictive clause in contacts, the talent of these writers goes unnoticed. By allowing writers to write the occasional guest piece in another more prominent newspaper or magazine, readers will come aware of the smaller publications, since these pieces typically carry short bios at the end. The removal of this clause, therefore, can be used as an instrument to create "brand awareness".

The other reason I advocate the reversal of the principle is because writing styles, word counts, subjects and tones of stories fall into pre-defined templates, which reporters have to adhere to. Moreover, they're also assigned specific beats to cover, which limits their ability to write on more than one subjects. The absence of this clause will ensure that writers with diverse interests can find homes for stories that won't be published in their papers or magazines. So, if a reporter covering financial markets for say The Economic Times, has an interests in writing a long-form piece on the painter Raja Ravi Varma's role in Indian art history for The Caravan magazine, why should he be denied the opportunity by a restrictive clause?

It's an arrangement that benefits all parties involved. It'll challenge writers out of their comfort zones, editors will get a break from working on routine copies by regular writers, and readers, always the ultimate beneficiaries, will get a refreshing prespective on a subject from a new byline. Most importantly, it'll make adultery look good.

Aayush Soni is a journalist based in New Delhi. Follow him on Twitter at @aayushsoni.

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