Newspapers should not pass off letters to the Editor as humour column

Exasperated reader Panchabootham deplores state of journalism

Dear Sir/Madam,

Straightaway, I want to ask you whether there are any more journalists left in the newspaper industry or not. Is journalism like clerical work at the AGS Office these days? I have to pose these fundamental questions because I have been seeing a big newspaper palming off one person’s letters to the Editor as a regular weekly column.

I could have written to the said newspaper itself and asked this, but was worried whether my letter too would be made into a column and whether I too, considering my name, would become obligated to keep writing letters to them week after week so that they get to fill their pages without having to think anything original, except some straplines that are actually misleading and uninteresting.

Sir/Madam, at least in the newspaper industry you publish stuff that are voluntarily sent to you, whereas digital publications, whose sense of shame is lesser than that of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh chap, openly solicit material with the same loud uncouth insistence of the bus touts at Koyambedu who virtually drag you by your arm to their buses even though you had gone to the bus stand just to see off your cousin from Nagercoil.

The other day during the monsoon mayhem in Mumbai, digital networks were crying themselves hoarse, “send us pictures of waterlogging in your area” or send us any damn thing related to monsoon, we will publish them and take full credit for it under, what has to be the biggest hoax known to mankind after MLM companies and Atul Bedade, “citizen journalism”. Okay, they didn’t say the last part in that many words, but that was clearly the drift.

I wanted to send an up-close picture of my Indian style toilet, saying this is what I thought of their journalism, but they wanted something called hashtag with the pic. I didn’t know how to hashtag it. But later my son told me that hashtags are for giving relevant nomenclature. I hope when the time comes to write the obituary for news outlets they remember to title it: #DeathByHashtagJournalism.

Sir/Madam, I want to ask what do the reporters and photographers of digital news outlets, if they have any, do all day? Are they like these young actresses Hansika or Kajal Agarwal? You see them in many films, but never once you would have seen anything original from them in any scene that you can recall later. Similarly, all I see in digital news outlets are reports made out of reports from some other publications.

My son, who works from home because many modern companies know that it is cheaper to let people like him take rest in their residences and pay them rather than let them come to office and actually work, says making news reports from other news reports is called “curation” in digital media outlets. In our day and time, we used to call this copying, though many of us would have wanted to say plagiarism, we never did because we were never sure of its pronunciation. My neighbour, Madhava Menon, once couldn’t make up his mind whether to say this or that and ended up mixing both, “many of Deva songs are copiarised”.

Thinking of it, I am laughing now, but on that day I spent two hours searching the Oxford dictionary to figure out what the word meant. I mean I searched two hours for the dictionary that was eventually found amidst Mrs Panchabootham’s collection of Meenakshi Ammal’s Samaithu Paar books. Those books, by the way, contain recipes of food that normal human beings can actually consume and don’t use words like besan, urid dal. There is no word called besan in the Oxford dictionary, but almost every English publication uses it without italisicing it. This is why I have to keep wondering whether journalism has place for journalists any more?

Another thing of wonder for me is, why you keep running to this Kamal fellow.

Sure, he is forever tweeting something, but it is something that he himself does not care to read because they are full of spelling mistakes. But he has to just press the ‘enter’ button on his twitter account, and news outlets just begin to wet their collective pants uncontrollably. As far as I can see, more people follow Kamal on twitter than they do news outlets. So I feel like shouting, “Kamal’s tweets are not breaking news. They are old news to Twitter people”.

If news outlets still want to publish Kamal’s tweets, they at least run that damn spell-check on them before they publish, because I know that long before they dispensed with journalists, publications had completely discarded proof-readers.

Sir/Madam, all I want to say is please end this Jimikki Kammal or Kamal type of stories. At least from now on let your journalists step out of their cubicles and go outside and do real journalism like they used to do in times when hashtag was just an unused symbol on typewriters.

Yours in Extreme Cynicism

M Panchabootham