Tuesday, January 13, 2009

All that is fit to print

"On most occasions, what differentiates a good journalist from a bad one is news sense. What is breaking news for one may not even be news for another."

With these lines, my professor from journalism school made it clear on which side of the fence she wanted me to be on.

Ever since, I've been holding her words close to my heart and have tried to apply better sense into news reporting.

But every now and then, I'm irked by requests from common folks - neighbors, uncouth publicity agents, small-time event organizers, and even well-to-do readers of this newspaper - asking me to report on things that to my judgement, are not at all news-worthy.

Some requests include stuff like...

Mrs Mathur, the aunty next door, saying: “Mr Nair on the ground floor has been stealing all my magazines from the letter box. I'm so tired of this, Arco. You're a journalist! Why don't you write something on how neighbours who steal magazines are the new social evil…”

A fellow commuter in local train, on discovering that I'm a journalist: “Sir, we are having a painting competition at our colony. Similar to Taare zameen par. Only there's no Aamir Khan coming. Will you publish a news item on this…”

A certain professor calling up to say: "We are organizing a blood donation camp in our society. Thoda coverage ho jaye to badhiya ho, eh? Pre-event and post-event…”

And the mother of all requests. From who else, but my mother. After realizing that dad's not handing over the TV remote to her even after the news bulletins are over, she yells: “It's so annoying! How can women watch Zee TV and Star Plus if men keep watching endless cycles of 24x7 news? You must write about these things…"

When they told me all this, I thought they were kidding. But they weren't. Sometimes I’ve asked them as a response, "Would you really want to read about your personal stuff in the papers?"

Their responses appear confused. I don’t blame them – they did the unthinkable when they expressed outrage about the relentless coverage about Prince (remember?), but still continuing to watch it, giving the impression that the tragedy of a 5-year old stuck in a 60-foot deep pit was an event of national importance.

It’s at such times, that I’m convinced about what Outlook editor Vinod Mehta once told me in an interview: "The reader is a hypocrite. Go to him for market research, he’ll say he wants all sex and sleaze removed from the newspapers. Instead he’ll demand more local news and international reportage. But, if that is true, then how come a cover-story on a sex-survey turns out to be a best-seller?"

(The above write-up appeared in DNA in the column Saturday Rant. )