Journalist or Gentleman?

Journalist or Gentleman?

MY BOOK ‘A TOWN CALLED PENURY‘ was written mostly in the dialysis waiting rooms, in the wards and outside hospital ICUs or at odd hours of the night. An idea born over half a century ago has finally taken some shape, with all its imperfections. The presumption is that some journalists, now or later, would be interested in reading how journalism changed so far in India and what lies ahead.

The original plan was to ‘crowdsource’ the information. Thousands of journalists and mass communication students have been requested online to provide inputs and opinion on the content. From the lists ‘system generated’ by the social media, only those who appeared to be normal mainstream print media journalists were sent the invitation as the book, about the print merdium with which I was connected for 57 years, may not interest others.

Some, listed as journalists, but of organisations which did not appear to be publications were skipped and thier invites  ignored. They may all be better journalists than me. My apologies to them. As also to hundreds who ignored my calls – for contacting them.

Then came the idea of using the book to raise a fund to institute an annual commemorative lecture on a subject of of prime concern to journalism to honour a late journalist who was also a teacher and, above all, a gentleman.

It was felt crowdfunding it would involve a large number of people  who, I wrongly presumed, would back a good cause. Steps to ensure transparency in using the proceeds for the lecture were spelt out. Very few were interested.

Then the crowdfunding was dropped because of my own inability to carry it out single-handed and to erase the impression that money was the motive. The lecture project stands. 

Grouping different anecdotes into chapters posed a problem of continuity – so a system of cross references was adopted. The narration may still be disjointed. The jump from a topic to an unconnected one may be jarring.

Though thousands accepted ‘connect’ invitations or ‘friend requests’ on social media, almost  none but close friends have provided any inputs, though promised due credit.  The few who did, did so verbally. Those contacted did not give even their opinion or advice., which was sought.  Obviously no one wanted to trust a stranger; there were too many fake journalists around. Even friends and relations relied on ignored the effort.

Some solace came from the words of Dr Aloke Thakore, Hon.Director, Journalism Mentor, Mumbai that India neither had a tradition of journalism history nor seemed to care about it. He adds: “Proximity to power rather than a pride in professional practice sustains those who are out there”. Of the 4000-odd contacted online and given  glimpses of  the book only  handful bought it. Perhaps journalists in India were used to freebies and ‘gifts’ for too long.

Something worse followed: the organizations of journalists  approached to conduct the memorial lectures dragged their feet, unwilling to accept (or even reject in writing) an endowment to honour a good person and a journalist.

            Perhaps they thought one cannot be both.        

A Town Called Penury

Jnanpith Award-winning National Kannada poet Dr. K. V. Puttappa (Kuvempu) said:

“The attributes of a good home are a good newspaper & a few good books”

What goes into the culture and spirit of Indian journalism? Who are its heroes and legends? Stories of great Western newspapers are well known. Can one be a good journalist without knowing the romance, the ethos, and the heartbreaks of life on Indian newspapers?

A journalist on the Street of Ink for more than half a century and has taught the subject for a decade recalls some forgotten facts, anecdotes and humour of life in newspapers in the country:

  • To sack editor remove chair!
  • Editor Billed for  News
  • Please Make Mistakes
  • Great Editor’s Body Unidentified
  • Double  Work,  Lower Wages  for  ‘Desi’  Journalists
  • Indian  Scribe’s World Scoop n ‘Tooning’ the News
  • ‘I is the Editor’, Oh! Are You?, ‘Yes, I Are’–Editor MABF
  • Tarun, Taruni and Tehalka
  • Crawled  When Asked to Bend
  • ‘Spirit’  of Journalism — by the Peg
  • Vision  in  Viewfinder
  • Morning  Daily Evening Raddi
  • Paid News, Unpaid Scribes

It was late 1958. A news item on the agency printer said ‘Gama dies in penury’. A colleague on the news desk asked: “Where is this place Penury?” For a teenager planning a lifetime of journalism, the title of a book was born.

Now, after 57 years the book comes out

Journalism departments teach us all about Western (English) journalism.  So we know all about The Guardian, The New York Times’ merger with The Herald Tribune, how Mary Baker Eddy started Christian Science Monitor, how Der Spiegel became Germany’s national daily, how Le Monde, Paris, was the first to have horizontal page design. But few know about C. Y. Chintamani or Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi!

The New York Times in its LensBlog column had three photojournalists comment on the picture of bodies of two gang-raped girls hanging from a tree in Badayun district of UP in India in 2014, asking whether such graphic pictures should be published. Gujarat dailies, in the late 60s, used to print ghastly accident photos on front page, with mutilated bodies. Many feel such unpleasant sights should not mark the start of the day.

The profession which was once known for starvation wages and idealism, now attracts some who use it to rake in huge sums. Sexual harassment, always there, came out into the open with a high profile case. The ‘spirit’ of journalism is being imbibed by the peg. Most journalists are now “on contract” and insecurity looms large in their lives. In the West too most newspapers are facing hard times, curtailing staff or closing down.

Technologies that sounded like science-fiction just 15 years ago have brought a sea change to journalism and its culture.  Once Reuters sent news using homing pigeons Today, with instant messaging and live telecasts beaming via satellites, wars and disasters come into our drawing-rooms as they happen. Images and narration from actual scene can convey news without the need to be written and printed.  Citizen journalism, news tweets, online news portals and other developments led to power (of dissemination) without responsibility,

Mayhem may be journalism’s next stage. Indian mythology depicts Muni Narada as Antaryami’— one who could see past and future events anywhere in the universe   through his magical power. Will magical instant access to everywhere in the past and present (and perhaps even the future) be the next stage of journalism?

To ‘inform, educate and entertain’, in that order, has been the basic aim of journalism. Now, the order has been reversed. Some not just entertain but also titillate, ‘educate’ readers only about trivia to suit vested interests and ‘inform’ readers of only what Big Money pays for.

Paid news, ‘news traders’,’presstitutes’, newspapers closed down without paying compensation, more fake journalists than real ones…many issues plague journalism. These and also the folklore, legends and hero-figures shape the culture and mores of the profession.

This book attempts to deal with them. Wanting to know all aspects of journalism, I tried reporting, photography, editing, writing features, editorials, magazine editing, outstation correspondentship…all except cartooning and sports. I hope all my 2000 social media friends will buy the book – for a cause.

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