NDTV seems to be having a pretty bad day, so far. From one of its reporters being uncharacteristically taunted by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to old-timer journalist Nidhi Razdan learning that she had, after all, been conned by the whiff of a too-good-to-be-true job offer at the prestigious Harvard University — it can customarily be surmised that the media network is on its fated path to dealing with PR hell and glee trolls (more than usual) over the next few days.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Razdan on Friday revealed that she had been the victim of a ‘sophisticated phishing attack,’ and that the lucrative teaching offer at Harvard that she had quit NDTV for had, in fact, turned out to be a ruse. In her own words, a “shocking” result of “clever forgeries and misrepresentations”.

Nidhi Razdan would very well like you to believe that an entire shadowy cabal of trolls is at work here, and she is just the poor victim of her detractors who ostensibly went to great lengths to obtain access to her “personal data and communications”.

But was it really that well-organised and coordinated as all of us would like to believe? Or did one of India’s most acclaimed journalists, the winner of the prestigious Ramnath Goenka journalism award, really not bother to look beyond the veil of an apparent ruse?

Three hours after Razdan declared herself the victim of “a very serious phishing attack”, Joshua Benton, the former director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard, clarified that the university does not, in fact, have a school of journalism. There are no departments of journalism either, nor are there any professors of journalism.

It does have the Nieman Foundation, which offers fellowships related to journalism, but they don’t have any faculty or classes. There’s also the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, but no journalism-specific faculty, according to Benton.

Surprised by the fact that you didn’t know that? If you are, know that you have, at least, just saved yourself the embarassment of being an acclaimed journalist who, for whatever reasons, did not have the tools to verify that.

Let’s have a look at what Nidhi Razdan had tweeted in June last year, ingenuously optimistic, perhaps to a fault, for what was clearly going to be a not-so-elaborate ruse:

“Associate Professor teaching journalism as part of Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.” Really?

The Harvard Extension School only offers a Masters of Liberal Arts degree with a focus on journalism, according to Benton. But the extension school doesn’t have any full-time professors of its own — nearly all those courses are taught by adjuncts, working journalists who teach a class on the side, he said.

Moreover, no “degree” in journalism is offered. Instead, a “Master of Liberal Arts” is conferred to the student with a journalism focus.

According to the website of the Harvard Extension School, “The Master of Liberal Arts, Journalism degree field consists of 12 courses (48 credits), with one required on-campus course.” The course is customizable and includes Proseminar, Feature Writing, News Reporting among others.

That’s it, a part of this is apparent from the website. The rest, one can figure, can be surmised, if one actually wanted to, by a journalist’s tools at disposal.

Then why wasn’t it done? We don’t have an answer, and it looks like neither does Nidhi, who announced that she will be “taking a well-earned break from social media for a few days,” possibly in anticipation of the barrage of questions she was inevitably be going to be faced with.

Liberal Twitter naturally brought its fair share of sympathisers, who nodded their heads judiciously at the ill-fortune that struck Razdan, and penned and shared a couple of wise tweets on how to be wary of fake job offers.

Even so, several easily-dismissed disparagers raised a proper point this afternoon: How is it that a veteran journalist such as Nidhi, often deemed to be in the “big leagues” of Indian media, fell victim to such a ploy? Isn’t it supposed to be part of a journalist’s job description to verify the authenticity of tittle-tattle that we lesser folk often take for granted? Or is it only reserved for sagacious showmanship in front of the camera when in their personal lives, they are just as vulnerable and incapable of substantiating subterfuge as the rest of the citizens they seem to preach to?

The answer doesn’t seem immediately apparent at first. After all, it was Nidhi herself who said that “a sophisticated and coordinated phishing attack” is at work.

That may well be true. Conversely, it might also be that the whiff of candy dulled the better judgment of someone who claims to be a professional, to the point that they lost themselves in the prospect of a carnival without looking twice at the teetering illusion of confetti.


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