It was the first anniversary of the violence in Delhi’s JNU, which saw armed goons descending on the campus and attacking students while the police strangely stood mute witness outside. We decided to mark the occasion and invited a cross-section of stakeholders to write. Aishe Ghosh, president of the JNU Students’ Union and one of the victims of the attack, wrote. So did Abhishek Mishra, a BJP youth leader.

Aishe wrote what we overwhelmingly agreed with, that JNU – despite being a centre of excellence – was under attack for its liberal values. Mishra, on the contrary, took a different line of argument, insisting that JNU must get rid of “anti-national forces”. He then sought to augment his argument by repeating unsubstantiated allegations against Aishe and her fellow students who were assaulted. According to him, they were the perpetrators and not the victims that day.

Though not convinced about what Mishra contended, we carried his article and Aishe’s. Both were fine with me. They were opinions, after all – one convincing and the other not. But objections came from Salik Ahmad, our young reporter. At an editorial meeting that we had days after the two articles were carried online, he expressed his strong disagreement with my decision to allow Mishra’s piece to be published. “Editor, you are wrong,” he said.

An internal debate followed, and I told him to write down his resentment. “Feel free to go hammer and tongs against me.We will publish what you feel,” I told him, convinced about the virtue of both-sides journalism. Always a fine writer, what Salik wrote was a wholesome denunciation of my editorial call.

He termed Mishra’s argument a lie and said: “When I flagged the fallacy, you said it’s so and so’s opinion. A lie is not an opinion. Plus, an argument cannot be mounted on lies and unsubstantiated allegations, which the piece is riddled with. We cannot wash our hands of it by saying that it’s another person’s opinion. By publishing it, we gave it legitimacy. We normalised it. Amplified it.”

Salik’s piece horrified many in the team. It was unusual for a reporter to take on his own editor on the very platform that they worked for. But honestly, his critique did not bother me a bit. Perhaps, old school and possibly old fashioned, my belief that every story has two sides – however contradictory – has always run deep and been firm. Though it was fashionable of late for journalists to talk about the need for moral clarity – meaning they must take a stand for and against and cancel the opposite view – I didn’t subscribe to it.

I wasn’t even swayed by their argument that the situation in the country was black and white, so much so that it was akin to when it rained: you really didn’t need to put your hand out to check if it was raining and take the counterview that it was not raining. If it was raining, it was raining, proponents of moral clarity argue.

But even this argument didn’t sound necessarily true for me. Living in Delhi, notorious for raining in some parts and not raining in others, you could not be sure it was raining in Connaught Place when it was in Chittaranjan Park. You still had to put your hands out and verify.

Firm in my belief, I allowed Salik’s piece to go online, and soon it went viral. His argument provided a lot of food for thought, and even the Washington Post picked it up in its daily newsletter. More than anything else, the fact that a reporter had taken his editor to the cleaners set tongues wagging.

I gloated in my public embarrassment. In fact, it was further proof of my own convictions. And I happily wrote in my own counter, that appeared two days later, that I was more elated than embarrassed. “A colleague has shown spine and spoken up and that is something we must acknowledge and cherish. None of us are infallible and not all decisions of ours are beyond reproach. And since we are all likely to come to wrong conclusions at certain times, scrutiny of what we do is always to be welcomed. To that extent, Salik was absolutely right, and I sincerely wish more power to him.”

However, I stood by my belief in both-sides journalism and held forth on the virtues of listening to all sides. I wrote:

“The polity is divided and so are we.As positions become rigid, it has become somewhat fashionable to take a strident stand even if it means shutting down the voice of the other side completely.A stand we must take. For, as the famous American journalist of Watergate fame Carl Bernstein reminded us during a recent visit, it should necessarily be on the side of the best obtainable version of the truth. And how do you arrive at the best obtainable version of the truth? Of course, by not precluding any side and listening to all versions.”

For that matter, Salik’s contrarian piece wouldn’t have found a place on our platform but for my unflinching belief in both-sides journalism. Outlook practised precisely that during my editorship, and the issue with the divided media on the cover was no different.

We didn’t hide our dislike for the sycophantic media. But we didn’t shut them up either. We heard them by giving space to what they said, and for that, we commissioned R Jagannathan – known to be an editor with right-wing sympathies – to write. As expected, Jagannathan was critical of the Lutyen’s Media that Outlook was supposedly part of. He held our portrayal of the anti- CAA agitation as secular as hypocritical and claimed the joke was now on the mainstream media, “which is still claiming neutrality when its sympathies are obvious to everyone and the dog at the lamp-post.”

Though not entirely convincing, Jagannathan made a strong case justifying the media divide in India:

There is a good reason why this polarisation has come out in the open now rather than earlier. Until about a decade ago, only one side controlled the media...this ecosystem’s stranglehold in both media and academia ensured that there was only one dominant narrative about India. With digital taking centre stage over the past decade, new voices sprang up to question the mainstream narrative. Today, even if you are an editor with pro-Congress views, you cannot stop other journalists in your own organisation from blogging differently. The tyranny of controlling the narrative from the top of the editorial hierarchy is dying, if not dead. Today’s media polarisation is a direct result of the smashing of the monopoly on narrative-setting by Lutyen’s Delhi, which has not taken kindly to being challenged repeatedly by upstart journalists from the right.

The editors at Outlook were wholly against narrative-setting by cancelling out contrarian views.We disagreed with Jagannathan on many scores but had no qualms running his piece.We didn’t even agree how the “upstart journalists from the right” that Jagannathan eulogised pursued their craft by often falling back on news that was fake.

Yet, what Jagannathan said had to be heard since cancelling contrarian opinion had intrinsic shortcomings and would inevitably lead to unwelcome suppression. I don’t agree with a view, and I don’t publish it. The others don’t agree with me, and they shut me out. With both righteously cancelling each other, what you have resultantly is nothing but unmitigated censorship.

Excerpted with permission from Editor Missing: The Media in Today’s India, Ruben Banerjee, HarperCollins India.