I myself quit journalism in 1988, but I have been following the profession closely – not least because my father was in it for several decades, and ran a daily virtually singlehanded with a team of young greenhorns for the last almost fifteen years of his life. I have profound respect for the greats in the profession, so it pains much more than pleases me to write this invective. The essay is, therefore, written with apologies to the ‘choice and master spirits’, of whom I have known a few in the flesh: alas, almost all would be older than 65 now, if they were all alive still. My only angst and complaint, in fact, is that so many hide behind the aura of the few greats to live despicable lives, and that things have been steadily growing worse over my working lifetime.
1. Journalists keep talking about others, and it’s often just to cover up the fact that their own lives are boring, aimless and empty.
2. They flit from sensation to sensation, because they cannot focus on anything that is really serious over the long term. The honourable exceptions are there only to underline the fact that they are painfully, almost invisibly few.
3. They find fault with and sermonize to the whole world, but are more sensitive than all others to any suggestions that their own morals be monitored – how much what they say contradicts what they do.
4. When coups and earthquakes aren’t happening, as on most days of the year, they ‘cook’ news. But catch them admitting it before they are stone drunk!
5. They are far more interested in sales/TRPs than in either truth or human feelings.
6. They are pathetically easy to bribe. I have seen it done with whiskey bottles and suit lengths or saris.
7. ‘Power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages’… it attracts the basest sort of people on the average, those who themselves know they are not good enough for any real profession, be it politics or medicine, teaching or writing, being a judge or a bureaucrat or even a good plumber.
8. Over the last twenty five years, it has drawn unfocussed and untalented young people in droves in India, exactly like engineering, though perhaps more of females, who have brought down standards drastically. Today, even writing about what restaurants are serving or how rich men’s wives are partying dares to be called journalism.
9. Many make much money through simple blackmail: ‘I have found out this stinker about you; how much will you pay me not to publish it?’
10. Once journalists saw themselves as freedom fighters. These days often their highest ambition is to become page-three celebrities. And while as a rule they claim to be all in favour of democracy, they fawn shamefully (and shamelessly) on the rich, powerful and famous – even if they are famous only for walking the ramp three quarters naked.
11. They mutilate and coarsen language as if their lives depend on it. Most would write ‘The PM on Sunday said’… I leave it to anyone who claims to know English to remember what the right syntax is.
12. They are as a rule schizophrenic personalities: too many preach extreme forms of liberalism for others while maintaining rigid old-fashioned regimes for their spouses and children at home. Go ahead and quiz twenty journalists privately about how many of them will be delighted to hear that their children are gay.
13. They are eager to tell you bad things about people (a teacher has caned a student unconscious) but they will virtually never take the trouble to write good things (a teacher has devoted forty years of his life, 340 days a year, to working quietly and diligently for the common good) – and they are not ashamed to justify this ugliness with ‘But that’s what the public wants!’ To a very large extent the whole profession is about washing people’s dirty linen in public for the consumption of the voyeur that is there in most of us, claiming endless gratification.
14. They get very angry when they are told that they are merely serving this or that businessman’s interest.
15. I was taught as a cub reporter that after a cursory glance, official handouts and press releases should go straight into the waste bin, and if a mandarin, minister or big-ticket CEO makes tall claims, your job is to immediately smell a rat and probe where s/he is lying, covering up or window dressing. Alas, far too many ‘journalists’ pass off such handouts as news, often unedited! After all, a CEO has deigned to acknowledge their existence – shouldn’t they suck up to him to show how grateful they are?
16. In India, the average journalist’s loftiest ambition (unless it is as mentioned in point 10 above) is to be handed out a government sinecure – ambassadorship to some obscure country or a membership to the Rajya Sabha. Imagine what you have to do for thirty years or more to ‘earn’ that!
A female who was once my pupil – for my sins – and grew up to be a most despicable (unless it were pathetic) character has also become a so-called journalist. Another reason for my much-diminished regard for the tribe. You can make a quick survey of this blog to find out what sort of women I hold in high regard, and what sort attracts only my contempt and ridicule.
I end with yet another apology, especially to the likes of Kipling and Hemingway and Graham Greene, who graduated from journalism to something immeasurably higher, and the likes of Mayuri Mukherjee, another old girl, who have in recent times been trying hard to become journalists who can be taken seriously.