Journalism needs better barbers

Ladies and gentleman,

I have a small announcement to make on behalf of all the journalists in India now. I want to tell you that just because we are in the newspaper industry it doesn’t mean we are well informed. As a matter of fact, we barely have a clue to what is happening around us now. Take a look at today’s newspapers. It is full of Nehru and his indiscretions during the Indo-China war of the 60s. What you see as breaking news are about things that actually happened several decades back. This is the level of our up-to-dateness.

So next time when you run into any of us, for God’s sake, don’t ask who will win the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Come back to us a couple of years later. We may have some inkling on that.

Or, better still, tell us who will win. Will be handy when we make the news pages next year.

Thanks and all that

Yours and all that

I needed to get this information first off because, ever since the elections were announced, the one question that has been persistently thrown at us wherever we journos go is: Who will win?

The problem with such an interrogation is you are not only not sure about the answer but also equally not clear about the query as well. You can never conclusively say whether it is about the impending polls or the ongoing World T20.

As it always happens, I clumsily commingle both, and end up almost saying that Rahul Gandhi is a bit suspect against short balls or Ravindra Jadeja should apologise for the 2002 riots or Kejriwal will hit the streets if India doesn’t win. Of course, there is more than a reasonable chance that the last might actually happen.

The point is political and election reporting has gone down alarmingly in this country because our (media’s) primary sources of information and nuanced analysis have also gone down very badly.

Let me explain in detail: Not long ago, any cub reporter, aspiring to make it big as a political correspondent, learnt all the important lessons of the trade at that Advanced Institute of Psephology and Election Analysis: The local barber shop.

The first pit-stop of election reporting was the ‘saloon’. Nowhere else party politics and alliance formations were discussed with more authoritative gusto than at the ubiquitous, street-corner hair-cutting shops of yore. Prannoy Roy must have been to one such ‘saloon’ and stood transfixed at all the informed exchanges and returned home richer for the psephological knowledge but poorer for the missed haircut. Such a theory alone explains his, yes you are right, untrimmed beard.

Most of these political debates at the barbershops were high-decibel ones with menacing overtones much due to the ready availability of scissors, knives and other sharp implements.  Modern TV studio discussions are a realistic replication of this scenario, with the only difference being since they cannot openly have knives and scissors, they have gone ahead and replaced them with a weapon more bloody and harmful: Arnab Goswami.

We scribes also had another sophisticated and sincere source to check how the heart of our democracy was ticking: Taxi drivers. They were the Yogendra Yadavs, but who actually spoke some sense. When big-time Editors asked their reporters whether they had spoken to their sources it usually meant whether they have chatted up with any cab driver.

Seriously, election-time reporting used to be a simple exercise of interrogating taxi drivers. Not coincidentally, the paragraph that discussed what the electorate wanted, always talked of the need for better roads. Not to get caught or arouse any suspicion, we journalists bunged in a few paragraphs about the seeming electoral impact of India’s plea for permanent seat in the UN Security Council. But no normal person, for the record, knows, why is there a need for UN Security Council, leave aside why India needs a permanent seat in it.

But still we busted our own game with such self-revealing headlines: “Congress in driver’s seat at Amethi”, “Bumpy ride for BJP at Lucknow”, “CPI-M set to miss the bus at Thiruvananthapuram”, and just about the all-time favourite, “Wheeling and dealing on as polls loom”.

Anyway, with barber shops and taxi services now changed totally, journalistic standards have slid by a huge margin. Next time, when someone asks me, who should he or she vote for, my unequivocal answer will be: We better vote ourselves a smarter lot of barbers and cab drivers.

For, the future of journalism in this country is in peril.