“You should have called me before running the article. It’s your prerogative to give me a call before running the article.”
The head of a reputed Bollywood PR firm on the other end sounded very disturbed. She tried her best to keep her voice down on the phone. She was upset because I had written an article on her ‘client’ without consulting her. Before keeping the phone down, she also politely refused an interview request with a B-list Bollywood star, who was also her client.
She was venting after a 150-word article found its way into a newspaper, I used to work for at that time.
Here are the details of the newspaper story that made her mad.
Three days back, the Income Tax (IT) department swooped in on a posh high-rise flat of a leading Bollywood actress in the wee hours to conduct a raid.
They had raided the apartment of another Bollywood actress that morning too. Since anything to do with Bollywood makes news, an IT raid on two leading Bollywood actresses meant that it had the potential to make it to the front page of my newspaper.
By afternoon, the news was on every channel.
By evening, the news editors asked me to treat the news as an ‘important’ copy. What the news editors meant was that we needed to dig out exclusive information which will justify the news being on page one of the newspaper since the basic details were out on the channels.
Now, I had two available news sources — the PR of the actress (who had already called me twice as she got a whiff of me filing a copy on it) and a witness to the raid — a nosy neighbour in the same building.
An hour later, I entered the editor’s room sheepishly and confessed to not being able to wrest any additional information, barring a quote from an eye-witness which can at best add to the description of the raid. My editor promptly put me onto another general news reporter, who had a good rapport with some officials in the income tax department.
My reporter colleague could gather some sketchy information about how much cash was recovered from the actress’s apartment and I added the eye-witness account. My editor was not happy about it.
It was at this point that the drama began.
While mailing my inputs to the copy desk, one of my colleagues (who was still on probation at that time) approached me with the request that I should immediately call up the PR of the actress. “She has a lot of information about the raid and she wants to tell you all about it.”
I will call my colleague Miss P from now.
I asked Miss P if the PR had to offer any exclusive information and she excitedly narrated how the income tax officials found nothing in her apartment. According to the PR, the income tax department, apart from lauding the actress for being an honest tax-paying citizen, also gave her a clean chit.
I told Miss P to ask the PR to mail me the information. A few minutes later Miss P came back huffing and panting and told me that the PR was willing to let me quote her as a “dear friend of the star actress”, but she was not willing to mail or text her quote.
I politely told Miss P that I don’t need additional information from the PR. Ten minutes of intense conversation on her cellphone, P came back to me with another “offer” — if I include the PR version, I would get to speak to the actress exclusively a few days later.
By that time, two senior colleagues also got similar calls with the same request — that I must put the version of the PR that said that the actress got a clean chit from the IT department.
Given my (and a reporter colleague’s) knowledge on the subject, we both knew that the income tax department doesn’t give a clean chit so fast — and that too within 24 hours of the raid.
Something was not right. So, this time I told Miss P to ask the PR to mail me a scanned copy of the ‘clean chit’.
Seven minutes later, a visibly upset Miss P accused me loudly of being obstinate and taking advantage of being a senior. I offered to step aside so that she could file the copy in my place. Miss P again stepped out in the lobby with her phone glued to her ears.
Miss P then confessed something. She told me that there is no written ‘clean chit’ and that is the reason why the PR wants to give me the quote.
But the same time, she insisted that it is my duty to include the version of the spokesperson in my copy. I watched in horror as she was on the verge of tears. Fearing that the situation might get out of my hand, I asked her to consult a news editor on the matter.
The matter was then referred to the news editor and he had a word with Miss P. I was called in too.
I explained to the news editor that what the PR is saying is in contradiction to the IT officials’ version. My reporter colleague who had spoken to the IT department also seconded me.
My news editor nevertheless decided that it was our my duty to speak to the “other party” and include their version in the copy.
So, there came a solution from him — text the actress on her official and personal mobile numbers and also send her an email for her version.
After we stepped out, Miss P again went back to the news editor’s room for a word and emerged from it, looking victorious and relaxed. She even offered me a bite from her bitter chocolate bar, something that I never saw her doing ever.
I was later told by a colleague from the news desk that Miss P is providing her “inputs” for the copy, which includes the account of a close friend of the actress. The ‘friend’ supposedly arrived at the scene within half an hour of the raid starting. The inputs were the same — that the actress is a law-abiding citizen and that the IT officials never got any cash from her apartment.
Early next morning, when I saw the paper, I realised most of the ‘inputs’ had been cut out of the copy and my paper just carried the news of the incident in a very small space. Exhausted after last evening’s drama, I went back to sleep.
A week later, I would wake up again to find that the junior had got an “exclusive” interview of the actress which was carried across half a page.
To date, the PR and Miss P describe themselves as BFFs.