Wednesday, August 03, 2005

'To milk it for your own good'

In the four years I spent in a newspaper, there have been a number of occasions when, caught up with the news of the moment, you try and make a splash. One of the first episodes was when the space shuttle Columbia burnt up while coming back to Earth. We (HT) changed our front page at the last minute and caught ToI napping. Much celebration ensued. In the meanwhile, Kalpana Chawla was dead.

More recently, I found myself outside the burnt remains of the Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar on the eve of the flag-off of the Muzafarrabad-Srinagar bus service. Standing there, I knew I was part of a great story.

So there you have it. The kick/high a reporter enjoys while on assignment. The adrenalin rush that keeps you going, that lets you see the big picture -- the package.

Codey, in his comment to my previous post, says:
"Media does not any longer report real news, there is no value attached to what actually happened, the value is in how you present it and milk it for your own good."
Key phrase: "... what really happened ..."

There is no absolute truth. What we believe to be true is nothing but our faith in our senses, or in an experience, or in a person's account. The truth is that apples are red because our eyes say so ... ask a colour blind man what the colour of an apple is. This may seem to be an oversimplification, but the truth is that which we choose to believe in. This choice isn't always concious, but it is always exercised.

"... what really happened ..." is an account and an experience.

It is a journalist's job to not only state the facts of the case: the death toll in Mumbai, but also to get an increasingly jaded populace to understand the magnitude of the story: the sheer scale of destruction in Mumbai.

The "packaging" is, or should be, an attempt to do so.

The motive, the reason behind an action, is as important as the act itself.

So, if you choose to do something very right for all the wrong reasons, there is something wrong.

If, on the other hand, your motives are pure -- in journalism, the drive to inform and help shape opinion -- then the act is acceptable and responsible, and to be lauded.

Indian journalism, despite all the naysayers out there, isn't so far gone yet. Certainly dumbed down, it still retains at its core a certain altruistic drive. One, without which, each and

every one of us would be left bereft and anchorless -- floating from one story to the next, from one package to the next with a mind numbing detachment.

We would be the worst things possible: professional 24x7 cynics.

On a lighter note, download a song allegedly created at one of the IITs about the holy smoke. The chorus rocks: bahin chod sutta, sutta na mila. Download the song here.


K said...

Professional 24x7 cynics. Hoo boy, aren't we there yet? See Naren, end of the day, most of my friends think that the media is a bunch of irresponsible and power-hungry idiots, which unfortunately many of the people in the media are. The presser I went to do today afternoon was ample proof of that. Now that means that the smart ones do become cynics rather fast.

shyam said...

Naren: Hehe, I hope you did not take the speech that was given at the induction ceremony way too seriously. After the six month honeymoon period, when you have to start paying off the bills, the high ideals do come off in most places, I can somewhat confidently put my money on the same happening where we are now, though I do hope, for my own sake that I am wrong.

I do agree that "what really happened" is an account and an experience, but even that goes through the hands of the desk and the eds before it sees the light of the day and I am talking more about that packaging. What I do disagree with is the observation that the population is jaded. They are not, they are just disinterested as long as it does not affect them directly. "250 died? yeah, it is sad, but what time will I get to fly into Mumbai without delays?" We are only replicating, in a much better way, what is already seen in the west, where they want only the 'positive' stories out of Iraq. "Don't ruin my day, I have to feel good today!"

Honestly, I do not remember when was the last time I saw something on the lines of "the drive to inform and help shape opinion" in journalism. At least in the meetings I've had with the R man, H man the CEO and the other lot, I heard nothing about truth, the drive and so on. What I heard most about was what would be our differentiating factor and how we can depend on certain brands to build our new audience. Come to think of it, the last time I heard something of the sort was when the senior Tejpal was about to launch the first incarnation of tehelka. Never after that.

Maybe I am way too jaded after some 5 years in the rag industry, but that is the way it is for me. Regardless, how is the training by the goras moving on? I heard they are pushing hard the concept of 'ethics' these days? And oh, a couple from the old HT Jaipur jig told me they knew you. Quite a tiny world it is.