Writing the Wrongs

Today’s journalism lesson is how to write crime reports in newspaper:

Right off the bat, it should be said that crime reports in news publications are extremely important in that they are actually read. Whereas no one has ever managed to — this includes the journalists concerned too — go beyond the second para of reports on inflation or industrial output. It is worse for Editorials. The readership figure for them is actually in the negative.

Why do crime news hold so much attraction to lay readers? Well, there are many reasons for this, but the chief one is — most psychologists confirm this —- other news are boring.

The point is as a reporter covering the ‘crime beat’ you have an onerous task. And your first job in the ‘beat’ would be to build extensive contacts with top-ranking police officials, whom you will have to ‘tap’ on emergency journalistic occasions like when stopped by the traffic constable for jumping the signal or drunken driving, which, trust me, as a journalist you will be doing a lot.

Ha. Ha. Ha. That was some good-natured ribbing on our own profession. As a crime reporter, you obviously have to build ‘sources’ in the department who will ‘tip’ you off as and when some major crime happens. Alternatively, you can follow the TV news channels. Because most of the big crimes these days happen there only.

Anyway, once you get the ‘news alert’, whatever be the crime, you as a professional reporter have to go through some basic check list: What is the crime, what could be the motive, who is the victim, who is the perpetrator. And does the crime involve a ‘techie’?

The answer to the last one is the most important of all. In it lies whether the news will be buried in an obscure corner of the newspaper which is usually earmarked for events attended by the Vice-president or given a prominent play and analysed, stretched, discussed, debated and dissected for days without end.

(Digression ahead)

For the better part of last fortnight, Indrani Mukherjea topped the headline charts with impossible consistency. We in the news media ignored a successful ISRO launch, we overlooked a rare overseas Test match series triumph, we underplayed myriad political happenings, we refused to find out whatever has happened to the missing monsoon (IS has kidnapped it), we ignored heaven knows what else and just as it looked like that we would continue with our unremitting focus on the Indrani affair till at least the start of the next financial year, happened this crime from Bangalore. It was no ordinary crime: By golly, it had a techie in it.

When you put techie and crime in the same sentence, News Editors basically go into seizures in uncontrollable excitement. I don’t know, they may even develop a boner for the story.

So what Modi, Kohli, ISRO and monsoon couldn’t pull off, a determined techie from Bangalore has — that is to push Indrani saga away from Page One in our newspapers.

This is how important techies are to the news industry… (*beep, beep, beep, beep*, hah, there goes the alarm signalling the end of the digression curve).

Just to clear any possible confusion as to who can be classified as a techie, here is what the ‘style guide’ that almost all news publications adhere to says:

  • Any person employed in an IT firm, even as a cafeteria assistant, is a techie.
  • Anyone whose job involves computer (A R Rahman, for instance) or related stuff, like the guy who turns up to change the printer ink-ribbon, is a techie.
  • And in desperate situations, even Radhe Maa.

If the crime does not involve a techie directly, as a reporter you must look to shoe-horn one. And this is not difficult as a family member or neighbour is usually employed in an IT company (most likely the TCS. Along with the mini-drafter and B L Theraja book, colleges give offer-letter from TCS to every student right at the time of admission in first year itself).

Once a friend or family member is established as a techie, the story practically writes itself. Here are some sample headlines: “Techie’s neighbour found running nuclear reactor from garage”. “Man dead due to age-related illness, his uncle is a techie”. “We are reporting this crime despite the fact the man who ran over his SUV over 15 people and shot dead 20 cops in broad daylight on Anna Salai is not a techie”.

That folks, is all there to crime reportage. The handy tricks and tips suggested here can help anyone become a crime reporter. You can perhaps give it a shot unless of course you are already employed, among others, as a techie.