Tunguru Tamasha 3: Honestly, Dear Editor, Is It A Great Story?

“Why do you want to be a journalist?”

The interviewer asks the youngster seeking admission in an institute in Odisha offering a course in journalism.

“I want to do great stories,” pat comes the reply, “There are so many interesting subjects around, waiting to be explored.”

“Good, but what do you think is a great story? Can you cite an example,” asks the interviewer.

“The Tunguru Bhola story Sir. It had everyone so excited. It went viral on the social media and television journalists did such a brilliant job.”

“Tuguru Bhola, really?” The interviewer is curious.

“Certainly. But they could have done more Sir. More details on the private life of the woman in the story and Tunguru would have been appreciated hugely on the social media. News television viewers would have loved it too.”

The interviewer, a seasoned journalist with close to three decades in print and television, scratches his head and stares long at the youngster. Strangely, he is not surprised by the answer. The new generation’s perspective of journalism is shaped by what they see of it around. In his early days in the profession, the response to the query on a good story would have been different. “I would love to do investigative reporting, expose corruption and unearth scams. Also Sir, I want to conduct great interviews,” he would have said, adding. “A good story not only informs people, it educates them too. It should carry utility value.” How times have changed! He sighs.

Cannot blame him though, he reasons afterwards. This generation has grown up without role models to inspire them. A good number of editors of earlier days were well-read, knowledgeable and with a rebellious streak. They took pride in the fact that they were journalists and commanded respect for adhering to the noble principles of their profession. If the current bunch of editors is convinced that Tunguru is a great story worth investing a lot of energy and attention, one cannot blame the impressionable young person for actually believing that good stories are supposed to be like this. If the role models don’t believe that a journalist should be respected for his knowledge and credibility, and journalism should have a halo of dignity, then one cannot blame the aspiring journos for not being guided by any sense of pride.

Before we proceed, here’s a clarification. The interview mentioned above is not a real one. It has been invented to juxtapose journalism then and now, and to highlight what’s wrong with our journalism today. While the article doesn’t intend to assert that everything was perfect with journalism earlier, it seeks to express worry at the general casual acceptance of the continuing all-round decay in the profession.

To stretch the points of role models and the idea of good content a bit more, here’s a question. What do institutes offering journalism degrees teach their students about quality — of content and the professional as well? One is sure the teachers there must be a confused lot. While seeking to impart knowledge on all finer aspects of journalism to students, they would also be conscious of the fact that none of it is relevant in the real world of the media. Not many can justify a Tunguru story playing out on television or digital media while talking about journalistic ethics to students. If they tell students this is not what journalism should not be then the latter would be justified in pointing to the gap between what they learn and what the reality is. That would bring to question the relevance of their degrees.

With mediocrity as a high-value proposition in the media, is there scope for talent to bloom in the profession in the state? The answer is in the negative. It is obvious that talent would look for opportunities outside. Those preferring to stay would watch their talent rot. Moreover, those who have proved competence elsewhere would have no inclination to get back and enrich the profession here with their experience. It is not a happy position to be in.

Does it really have to be like this? No. Somewhere media houses need to realise that despite all the compulsions they have, primarily political and finances, they can still offer good journalism to their readers or viewers. It only requires intent. If they don’t and let complacency continue, the profession will die.

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