Sonakshi Sinha's Noor gets journalism wrong. But it perfectly sums up the mentorless web journalist's struggle for good stories

When her editor asks her to interview Sunny Leone, Noor introspects: "Noor, what are you doing with your life, why are you here?

Sonakshi Sinha’s ‘Noor’ wants to be a ‘serious journalist’, something many journalism student of Jamia, IIMC  and ACJ aspire to become. When her editor asks her to interview Sunny Leone, Noor introspects: “Noor, what are you doing with your life, why are you here?”- a much relatable existential crisis that most young journalists face when they are bogged down with seemingly inconsequential assignments. She ends up doing a very unprofessional, sloppy interview and is fired. “Don’t judge Sunny Leone, you have achieved nothing Noor,” says her angry editor while firing her without considering the fact that she had submitted “six well researched stories about real people with real problems” on his desk and he paid not attention to them.

Well, the bubble of Noor’s research prowess bursts in the second half, when the film moves out of daily struggles of the protagonist’s life and ventures into serious questions on journalistic ethics,  social media impact and justice.  It becomes very clear that despite her talk about pursuing serious journalism and being starry-eyed about working at the CNN, her journalistic skills were very questionable. When she finally lands the story of her life, the over-enthusiastic and naive Noor, without any concerns for her source’s safety, records her testimony and is eager to air it as soon as possible.  This reminds us of the recent sting on Army Shahayaks published by a popular news website, later withdrawn after the source committed suicide.

Much like Noor, young journalism students come out of their colleges with a will to “change the world” while they don’t have a clue on how to go about a story.

Without any anticipation, Noor’s story end us being picked up by all channels. Because of holes in the story, it dies a silent death without the perpetrator being brought to book. The one story, like many good stories, that could have changed her life and at the same time exposed a major crime racket was lost.

Any story that lacks research and is a result of mad-chase to gratify a journalist’s ambitions of having done something great cannot create the required impact.The reason, Noor struggles with the story is lack of mentorship and guidance from her senior. Her boss fails to explain her why the story wasn’t good enough to be aired at the first place and how she could pursue the it in depth to ensure justice for the victims.  This is something so prevalent in our newsrooms that are operating in the internet space today. Research, fact-check, making calls, taking quotes and getting the right statistics have become secondary. The immediate urgency is to get the story up and posted on Facebook.

Noor makes a very valid point about social media virality. While her initial story falls flat, she succeeds in getting people to take note of this issue by posting a long video monologue “Mumbai, you are killing me”, trying to awaken the conscious of a ‘dead city’ and it’s people. This is a true reflection of how journalism works today. Unless you outrage and editoralise your story, make it an emotive issue, however contrived and forced it might seem, your story will not work or in social media parlance, go viral. The hits, the shares, the engagement- will not come unless the journalist becomes the story and puts her opinion forward instead of the facts. For a story to go viral, the journalist must strip her privacy down and bring her face on a camera. The ‘stand-up comedification’ or ‘theaterfication’ of journalism is appalling. So much time and resources are invested in getting the tone and tenor of the video right while story in itself gets no such attention.

Remember the kind of traction Ravish Kumar’s black-screen and voice over on NDTV got?

Many reviewers have panned the film for wrongly depicting journalism. True, Noor’s journalism is flawed. It ‘s not a ‘Spotlight’ or a ‘Nothing But the Truth’ where journalists showed immense strength of character, made personal sacrifice and exhibited real journalistic skills in order to break their stories. But then in India, we don’t see such journalism happening in regular newsrooms either.

Despite its many flaw and sloppy plot, Noor is a fair depiction of the state of passionate but inexperienced youngsters trapped in a profession that really doesn’t add to their bank-balance. Noor was lucky to get a second chance at her story and she was brave to not be bogged down by the burden of one mistake. She fixed everything and emerges a winner. But that’s not how real life works. Most young journalist in a similar situation would shy away from attempting any “serious journalism” in future and stick to doing Sunny Leone interviews or probing easier subjects – like opining on Sonu Nigam’s azaan comment or outraging over intolerance. That’s a far easier space to be in than to really chase a hard-hitting story.

The reason online journalism has become all about opinions and outrage is because real fact-based journalism is tricky business. It requires patience, hard-work and layers of fact-check. And the younger lot working in the internet space don’t have enough mentors to hand-hold them through this extremely painful yet vital process. It’s a sorry state of affair, not the ideal situation and that’s what Noor depicts.