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B. Pradeep Nair

Misconceptions

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Many people think media is very powerful. Maybe true, but only to some extent. It isn't a prosecuting agency or a superstate with extrajudicial powers. Here I try to clear some misconceptions.

Journalism has always been a favourite career choice of youngsters. For some it is the proverbial power of the pen. For some others it is the unparalleled thrill of reporting from the midst of a news-making event. Be that as it may, there are a lot of misconceptions about the profession: one, about the concept, two, about ‘power’; and three, about the work.

 

Concept

 

Like every other social sphere, journalism too has evolved over the years. And it still does. It has undergone constant changes, so too people’s idea of journalism. There are two main reasons for it: one, technological progress and two, changes in the socio-economic profile of readers.

 

Newspaper production is much more technology-driven now. We also have a multiplicity of sources of information, like radio, TV, Internet, cellphones etc. Newspapers are no longer the only means of getting the news. This is a very important reason why the dailies are looking different now, content-wise and look-wise.

 

As society progresses, the media too reinvent themselves to suit the expectations of the audience. In pre-independent India, for example, the main focus was the freedom struggle. Then it changed to development; tribulations of democracy; economic reform in the wake of collapse of communism; and, changes in perceptions and aspirations of people with the communication revolution.

 

Independence Day or Republic Day speeches were always the lead once upon a time. No longer, unless they have some newsy element in them. Similarly, the birth and death anniversaries of ex-PMs and Presidents. So too, walkouts in legislatures. Because, they all now look more of a formality, overflowing in rhetoics. There is little in them to offer to a reader. Today, the trend is to give news that is of some use, in an encapsulated form, easy to digest in a fast world. Readers should be able to relate to the news items. Anyway, there are always specialised journals, books and Internet for those who like to go into news in detail.

 

Power

 

Pen is mightier than the sword. A good adage: but not an absolute truth. There is a tendency to interpret this in a very loose manner, applying it indiscriminately to all and sundry situations. The media is primarily a conduit of information. Only in rare cases it adorns the role of an investigator. Media can’t always take up the role of a prosecutor or be the advocate of a perceived victim. Because, it is hard to establish who is right who is not. Media has to take care not to vilify individuals.

 

A lot of people ask: “Why can’t you (newspapers) put an end corruption? Why can’t you ensure than this work is expedited? Or, some person is punished?” These questions illustrate the trust people have. What newspapers project may facilitate bringing about a just society, but they can’t take it upon themselves, single-handedly the role of reforming the society and punishing the guilty. The primary role is dissemination of information.

 

Nevertheless, newspapers do take upon themselves a number of investigations into issues of public interest. The media also run campaigns to highlight such issues which are generally thought to have been neglected by authorities. In such cases media play the role of a watchdog.

 

Work

 

A lot of aspiring journalists do not know that journalism is as much an exacting profession as exciting. A journalist is an interpreter of current events. It is a thankless job; you need to be prepared to make lot of sacrifices, in terms of comfort and luxuries. Journalism may look glamorous from outside, but inside it is a hard grid, as any other profession. You may miss sleep and food in the pursuit of your work. Gathering of information is a hard task. Not all are willing to part with it so easily, especially, when that bit of data is very important.

 

Many journlists also stretch the limits of freedom of information. Being the Fouth Estate (on a par with the executive, legislature and judiciary) it shoulders tremendous responsibility. What is written or spoken has profound impact and contributes in no insignificant measure towards moulding public opinion. Being a journalist does not confer in a person the right to do or act anyway s/he deems fit. 

 

A good journalist needs to have a keen interest in current events, skills in intelligible language, and ability to manage people deftly. Improvise, reinvent, and believe in the inevitability of change.

This is an article I wrote for a Christ College newsletter on October 10, 2003.