Apologies to two readers who actually cornered me at recent Press Briefings and asked me, "K, what the hell is up with you? The lack of updates at your blog disappoint us." Sorry, sorry, sorry, but I really have been busy!
Anyway, moving one beyond grovelling...
Other than making fun of the random ET journalist that I meet about how they're enjoying Liberty Tea, someone was pointing out that since the arrival of Papermint and its close ties with the Aditya Birla group (nephew's company after all!) the Tata's which were not on speaking terms with the Times (the small affair of Dilip Pendse, and no history lessons here) have suddenly started cozying up to them again (though this case indicates otherwise). That said, one senior PR type tried to convince me that this was a 'deliberate' plant to just see if someone could pull off such a stunt. I must admit, whoever the PR type that thought up the story, hats off!
But that leads us to another issue, while the quality of the best journalists in the profession has improved, the sudden boom has meant that there has also been a dilution of quality somewhere down the line. A cursory look at byline frequency will make an observer think that 10 percent of the staff of a print news organisation produce 50 percent plus of the content. Of course, this could have two reasons, either that this ten percent sucks up to the Editors the most or are genuinely good, sometimes both.
Anyway, but how easy is it to get a story through in a newspaper? Pretty easy is what some PR chiefs tell me, once you mollycoddle journalists enough. I do know several senior folks in the PR world, many of them from way before I became a journalist, some through school, college and South Delhi networks. While many of them hold their drinks well, sometimes, just sometimes they blurt stuff out and my god, some of that is entertaining. But, its not what they say, and I do believe them in many cases, just because I have known some of them since I was a pre-teen, but the stuff I have noticed myself.
In one organisation I worked at (guess, guess?) a colleague whose English skills required him to redo his entire secondary education to improve suddenly submitted a perfectly written article. Something was fishy, so I confronted the chap, he denied everything. But if you read the piece it read suspiciously like a PR spin, so eventually an Editor did confront him and he admitted that he had done this before. And if this guy had done it, I'm pretty sure other people had done the same.
Voila, they had! I know of at least three other senior editors who have had entire articles written for them by PR executives, or worse still, policy types in large companies. One large edit page article for a newspaper despairing about the state of the power industry was written by, or lets use the word inspired to an extent that is unethical, by a certain official we'll call Jesus-Man.
But going to companies and listening to their PR spiel is cool, I do that all the time, but copying Press Releases is borderline lazy, and taking either market-gossip or what PR types tell you as the Gospel Truth? That is bad reportage. This is the age of Google and Wikipedia, it really isn't THAT difficult to cross-check basic info, like if a company exists or not! I mean, the above-mentioned websites might have made journalists doubly-lazy, but c'mon?
Is action ever taken against such lazy types? Not that I have heard of in an Indian news organisation. But really, how is this story any different from the 'non-sting', both are examples of fake reportage. Papermint is slowly improving, and once they get their breaking news bits right, with the competition publishing 'fake' stories on a dateline that does not read 'April 1', everyone is in trouble.
By the way, readership is down across the board, well a couple are up, but mostly down. And I'm sleepy, and I drove a lovely car today. I need a drink! Oh yeah, if someone can make sense of the Indian capital markets please let me know.