The annual readership survey of Indian news publications is out and, in a shocking development that puts a question mark over the future of journalism as it is practised here, it has been found there is an increase in the number of people reading newspapers and magazines (in their printed form). I say shocking development because many of us in the industry have been publishing pretty much anything in the happy hope that nobody out there is reading us.
For example, one newspaper had reported the Union Budget and carried along with it a large photograph of Shakira in short skirts. A headline in a news publication last week was —- if you are under-18 you should skip this but we know you won’t —- ‘Rihanna goes braless in LA outing’. This column too has, from time to time, presented a letter to my daughter, discussed in detail Rafael Nadal’s inability to find right-fitting undergarments, made any number tasteless jokes on the post of vice-president (but never really adequately conveyed the utter ridiculousness of the post) and argued passionately for the need to confer UNESCO heritage status on ‘Parangimalai’ Jothi theatre.
Another thing that we in news media have developed in recent times is something called ‘listicle’, which is a smart, handy journalistic contraction of the word ‘list’. Seriously, there is no real difference between ‘listicles’ and lists, but we use ‘listicles’ based on the truism: when the going gets tough, the tough come up stupid jargon. Exhibit A: Folks in HR department.
Anyway, listicles are bite-sized itemisations on a subject, structured so keeping in mind the needs of time-starved readers, and also keeping in mind the logic: If readers are time-starved, why waste our time on them.
A typical listicle is on these lines: Five reasons why idli is better than dosai:
1) There is Kushboo idli, but no Kushboo dosai
2) Idli is something that even Keralites can’t misspell. Dosai, on the other hand, has identity crisis. It’s dosha in Kerala, dosa in the North, and heaven knows what in the West.
3) Idli lends itself to idli upma, which of course makes you remember Suryavamsam. Anything that triggers thoughts on Suryavamsam cannot be praised adequately. (For those not familiar with the Tamil film Suryavamsam and the cult status of its director Vikraman, coming up — what else? — the listicle: ‘36 reasons why Vikraman is better than Martin Scorsese’. All 36 reasons to read the same: Vaanatha Pola)
4) Pizza dosai is a monstrosity waiting to happen.
5) Frankly, we didn’t realise you will be reading this all through and hence hadn’t thought up anything for this one
5) There was mistake in the headline. It should read: Four reasons why idli is better than dosai.
Away from listicles, in the last couple of years, we in journalism have also changed the way we cover news events. In the past, whenever there was a news break, we deputed a reporter or two to track the event. Now, whenever there is a news break, we depute a reporter or two to track Twitter to cover the same.
It has now reached the stage where there is more Twitter in our news pages than there is Twitter in Twitter. Here are some samples from newspapers: ‘Twitteratti react to India’s loss in World Cup’, ‘The lowdown on Twitter chatter on Deepika’s Vogue video’, ‘What did Twitter say on what Twitter said on Giriraj’, ‘Top tweets of the day (because the alternative to it would be for us to write something original here)’.
Twitter, of course, is not just a source of news for us journalists. We use the social media platform also to —- this is an example of how a little creativity can go a long way in harnessing the full potential of modern technology —- viciously badmouth other journalists and publications. And the way we journos fight amongst ourselves would make everyone wonder why the underworld gangs have not done the most obvious thing of recruiting us.
But getting back to the new readership survey, the rise in the number of readers over last year — it has been attributed to the interest generated over elections —- makes it clear that we journalists have to get our acts together and become much more responsible and serious.
For starters, I will not end this piece with a joke.