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Women Behind The Bylines

By A Shaheen

07 April, 2008

Taking an introspective look at a profession that has a significant
presence of women today (in terms of numbers though), Ammu Joseph's Making News: Women in Journalism chronicles the experiences of more than 200 women journalists, reflecting upon gender and gender-related issues. She has interviewed a cross-section of women journalists in media including some well-known ones such as Kalpana Sharma, Mrinal Pande, Bachi Karkaria, Shobha De, Tavleen Singh and Malini Parthasarathy. These women work for mainstream English and regional language newspapers in small and big cities. The revised paperback edition has updated introduction and a new chapter on networking at the end.

Being a journalist and media analyst, the author has been able to
study the responses of the women she spoke to, with a greater insight. Her subjectivities as a woman journalist give a more personal touch to the research, which is very characteristic of the author's style. The book is a memoir of shared experiences and face to face conversations between the women in media and author.

The Foreword by Nirmala Lakshman, Joint Editor, The Hindu, makes a telling statement when she points out, "Although more and more women are visible in the Indian media, their presence and representation are far from satisfactory. The situation of women in the media is complex and challenging as it is tied to the larger social issues of gender imbalances and inequalities in the society."

Sexual harassment at workplace and marginalization and discrimination against women in largely male-dominated profession is one such issue. In fact, the author's introductory reference to a report that unmasked the agonizing experience of women who negotiate public spaces on their own in Kerala, the most literate state in India, hints that the reality b(y)ites are yet to unfold. However, it is difficult to arrive at one single reality and the author admits this in her introduction when she says, "… there is no simple answer to the question of whether or not women have come into their own in India media."

She has pieced together the discussions on the problematic identity of a woman journalist. It is interesting to read the possible impact of gender on journalistic roles on the one end and the opinions of women who dismiss gender can affect their professional lives in anyway, on the other end. The fact that the book extensively covers the women's experience of gender in both subtle and conspicuous ways only corroborates the possibility that gender is an existing reality and not just an ideological construct. The author uses the glass ceiling phenomenon to emphasize that "to date, no 'mainstream', 'national' daily newspaper or news periodical in India has had a female editor."

The role of the wider socio-cultural environment in women's
experiences in media shows the extraneous factors affecting their
professional lives are heterogeneous in nature. The views encapsulated in The Generation Gap can make for a gender neutral reading because it throws light on the changing journalistic ethics, which is not limited to women alone. The hopes and fears of women in the wake of the developments in field and the possibility of networking are indicative of the changing dynamics in the profession.

The author has also been cautious not to sound completely disparaging. She quotes women who feel very positive about their profession and are "clearly determined to stay on in journalism—in one way or the another, within or outside media organizations—despite the trials and tribulations that too many continue to face." However, she signs of the book with a sentence that says it all, "If women hold up the sky, they must also have a say in at least half of what the media tell the world."

True to the spirit of journalistic ethics, Ammu Joseph does not
enforce her presence as a journalist. She lets the characters of her story speak. This is a marked contrast to the celebrity journalism of today, which is of the celebrities and by the celebrities.

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