The word “byline” first appeared about a century ago in Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises. Over time, for idealists among us, the byline came to represent the power of journalism—the courage it provided an ordinary reporter to challenge the high and mighty. As a young journalist, this was the sort of byline I aspired for, whose sanctity, I believed, was to be doggedly protected by editors. Over my career, I have watched the byline die a slow and violent death. It has been killed not only by power-hungry politicians and corporate barons, but also by media owners and their servile editors.
More than a decade ago, I opened a folder in my email called “Morgue.” I began saving in it stories I had written that met journalistic standards but still failed to see the light of the day. Stories have continued to pile up in that folder even as I have changed jobs—from working for a big start-up newspaper, to a giant media house known for its crass profit hunt, to a media house with great moral reputation. In the mortuary of these dead stories, I have a collection of reporting on some of our biggest political leaders and corporate giants that, in a country with a robust media, would have been celebrated, and in a law-abiding society, would have triggered major criminal investigations. But in India, these stories have found few takers. There have been times when I have seen individual editors stand up for journalism, but they have been rare exceptions. The culture of the newsroom has degenerated slowly, and self-censorship has become second nature to young journalists.