A handy primer on how to cover elections in any place without ever stepping out of your cubicle
Chennai, Nov 29: Elections are always the flavour of India. Some State or the other is always poll-bound. In the event, political reporting in this country is mostly an exercise in giving election gyaan.
Luckily, poll-reporting is no different from every-day weather forecast, except that election reporters are under no compulsion to get their predictions right even occasionally. Election reporting standards are such that we are happy if they get right at least the poll dates. (For the record, NDTV got the Bihar election results wrong after the results were declared).
If news persons are truthful the only honest line they can ever write about polls is: “One of the candidates in the fray will win”. But the problem with truthful reporting is people don’t buy newspapers (or tune into news bulletins) for tame facts. People want spice and masala. They want insider info. But a reporter, will mostly find them hard to come by. But luckily, journalism is a creative field, by which we mean it allows you to lie brazenly.
Poll reporting is basically — students of journalism, please take note — is bluffing authoritatively. Like politicians, you have to be quite shameless about it.
And we at Crank’s News (Motto: We bluff, there we are) have prepared a simple no-nonsense primer that cuts through all tired jargon to present all new jargon on how to report on polls in India
Get to Ground Zero
There is nothing like visiting the place that is going to the polls, talking to the local people, getting their views and then realising that they are even more clueless than you are. That is because most people anywhere, unlike journos, have better things to do in life than follow pointless politics.
But senior political correspondents and Editor types will make going to ‘Ground Zero’ as akin to moon landing. By the way, in news parlance, Ground Zero is any place outside of the journalist’s office cubicle.
Talk to informed people
If there is one thing that news correspondents world over not just in India do when they are on poll coverage is talk with people. Not to anybody, but to to the cab driver specifically. Even reporters who are on their own vehicles somehow manage to do this.
Car drivers are to election reports what gatekeepers at the racecourse are to horse-racing: the all-knowing oracles.
Apart from the cab driver, journalism deems the guy manning the local tea shop to be another source for deep potential insight.
Pick the brains of those who don’t have one
Aside from cab drivers and tea shop workers, poll reportage has to include quotes from the biggest non-workers, even more than journos and the country’s Vice President, in the history of human kind: Academics and ‘think-tankis’.
If you can’t find one, invent one. “According to Professor Narendra Menon, who helms the IQBJ, (Institute of Quote-givers for Bored Journalists) (But in your news copy you should describe it as ‘global hub for moulding public opinion in emerging democracies’) this election is essentially a fight between the forces of hegemony and hegemony of forces…”
Such a quote while giving a semblance of gravitas to the news copy also practically conveys nothing. For further practice in this, regularly read Kamal Haasan’s tweets.
Voice of youth
All elections will have first-time voters most of whom know as much about politics as would Golden Retrievers about nuclear submarines. But this should not concern you as a political correspondent. In fact, if the world had any sense it would ignore youth’s views on anything.
(As an aside, it should be pointed out here that news journalism started its inexorable slide into despair ever since its marketing brains decided that the industry would do well if it focused on the youth segment. After 30 years of never-ending experiments, news organisations have now come to to realise that most youth find reading anything more than on a menu card as heavy).
(Sorry for that old geezer rant. But we feel light now).
Anyway, once you have the youth segment’s views covered, the cab driver’s insight and the academics observation, your poll news copy is almost there, except for one ingredient, which is:
Hard numbers never lie. But, fortunately, as a journalist you can.
So you must use numbers creatively to reinforce whatever point you want to.
“It is a fact that the Patidars are upset with the BJP government. But what is equally true is that a good 62.3% of them are still not sure whether the alternative they are looking for is the Congress”.
Nobody will question the veracity of this stat because — accept it, you fall for it all the time — it is in decimals.
Pro tip: never use a rounded number in any stat.
One final point
Never forget use this line: It is too close to call.