“Why don’t you do more?”

Posted: June 15, 2012 in journalism, journalist
Tags: , ,

I had an interesting interaction with a gentleman who is involved with one of the numerous NGOs that take up civic issues for the city. The NGO, he is part of, I am aware, does a lot of work for Pune – raking up and taking up numerous issues that concern us as citizens. And as he himself said, they have a 0.5 % success rate which is pretty good when it comes to taking on the government and winning.

His one grouse was that media, specifically newspapers, don’t take up the issues highlighted by the NGO often enough. I knew what was coming next. “Why don’t you people highlight these issues some more?”

I told him that a newspaper’s job was to report not to indulge in activism. A journalist can become an activist on his personal time, but he cannot and should not use the pages of his publications to propagate that activism. It’s one thing to carry out a campaign about issues that are of concern to us, but it’s another to keep plugging our personal viewpoint through the newspaper, because we have an exe to grind with someone or some organisation. I know that a lot of my friends in the media who do the above mentioned would disagree with me, and they’re free to do so, but that’s the way I feel.

His next grouse was that we don’t publicise the work done by NGOs who work for the good of the city. Again, I said, if the news was worth the publicity it demanded we do give it. As a matter of fact, quote often, a lot of small-time publicity hungry lunatic groups also get publicity, simply because they make news, even for all the wrong reasons. And there are a lot of NGOs who do NOTHING, but still want publicity.

I don’t think any newspaper is just going to incessantly plug some group or organisation unless it or someone in it has some vested interest. But even there, it would be at extended intervals. The gentleman believed that as media, we should keep on writing about the work by the NGOs because it would help them grow and get more recognition.

In all fairness to the gentleman I referred to earlier, the NGO he is secretary of meets in his office, where they sit in a small room and are served tea and biscuits like everyone else. They do a lot of good work and I am sure they mean well. But not everyone’s like them. There are numerous so called ‘social service’ organisations who meet every fortnight at some five-star hotel or club, over drinks & dinner, which probably costs more than the bicycle or sewing machine they donate to some poor soul. I refer to it as “work worth ten bucks and publicity worth a hundred.” I was part of one such outfit when I was in my teens and saw how they worked. I hope things have improved since then.

I had the opportunity to work for an auto magazine for eight months where plugs were not quite frequent but neither was the criticism. You drove a car or a bike which you knew wasn’t the money’s worth, but one rarely saw a critical article that trashed the vehicle. One would “break the news gently” or not at all, because (as we were told), it could affect the advertising revenue, or because the people working there were driving the cars or bikes owned by X company. It feels nice to be seen in a car which we can’t afford to ever buy anyway, doesn’t it? So how can we write it’s a ‘dabba’?

Take even the newspapers. Some of them won’t criticise the ruling party because it could affect their business interests, so editors are told to go easy on anti-government stories. But as individuals and journalists we can still be a little honest to ourselves. Or is that too much to ask of us?

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