She suddenly grabbed the mike and blurted out the ‘question’.
“Salman sir, aapka khubsoorti ka raaz kya hai?”
When I heard the question this is what flashed through my mind immediately after…
Though the incident happened few years back, I clearly remember her even today. The lady was wearing a little black dress and sitting in the third row which was reserved for journalists. She was dark, thin and had two coats of paint on her face. She was panting in excitement as her voice echoed on the loudspeakers of the auditorium.
It was a press conference where we expected to discuss an ongoing tussle between multiplexes and producers on the issue of revenue sharing. The multiplexes refused to screen a few big budget releases resulting in a deadlock between the multiplex owners and the producers. A film related to Salman Khan was also up for release and hence a lot of reporters gathered at the press conference hoping to get a sensational byte from Salman.
The lady didn’t care about what was going on around her or why there were so many journalists crammed in such a small theatre in Bandra. She was too happy that she was able to throw a ‘question’ at Salman Khan.
Salman looked at her with amusement and smiled. He kept on staring blankly for the next question. The next question was asked by a gent sitting beside her. Again a frail man in a crumpled shirt. The striking part about him was his hair. It looked as if he hadn’t washed his head for decades.
“Sirji, yeh aapka jo picture hai, iski story bata sakte hai kya?”
Salman Khan again looked at the reporter in amusement and muttered “Iski Story” under his breath or so what I heard. He kept quiet and hoped that the next question would be better. It was at this point when the other journalists took over and normalised the situation.
I was attending the press conference on a special invitation from the PR because Salman was supposed to give one-on-one interviews after the presser. As usual, I was on a story that needed a confirmation or denial from him directly.
But those two journalists intrigued me. I was wondering how did they get an entry into a press conference which is supposed to be meant for only prominent media houses.
After the question-answer session was over, I went up to the male journalist and struck a conversation. The female journalist was standing beside him, she too joined the conversation later on.
I was speaking in my usual broken Hindi.
“You work for a channel?”The 20-something gent gave a broad smile and pointed out to the boom mike. It had the logo of a prominent Hindi media house.“She?”He took her boom mike from her hand and pointed out to the channel’s logo. Again, it was the Hindi arm of a prominent media house.
I was baffled. How come journalists from such prominent media houses are dressed so shabbily at an important event? And more importantly, how come they are asking such stupid questions? Isn’t this a shame for the channel that their reporters are asking such mindless, silly questions in public?
I told myself that I need to find out how they got the job. So, I kept the conversation going with him.
The gent was a graduate from a little known college in Lucknow. He had come to Mumbai in search of a job and took up a job of selling ad space in a newspaper. He finally arrived at this channel through one of his colleagues who referred him to a senior reporter.
The lady also had a similar narrative. A small town girl who cracked the job interview after doing some odd-jobs in Mumbai.
Good story. But that still didn’t answer my question.
Why did he or she get a job when they don’t know what journalism is?
Unable to find an answer, I asked the gent directly…
“How did you get selected? You clearly don’t have any experience or training in this field.”
The gent kept quiet for a moment and smiled. The lady looked at me and said, “Who else will agree to work for Rs 15,000? He gets paid 12,000 (points out at the gent). We are officially interns for the past one year. We got the job because we demanded the least money. It’s that simple.”
At that time, I used to draw a salary that was about seven times higher than them and couldn’t imagine how they managed with such a measly sum in a city like Mumbai.
I realised what was happening. Some newspapers and channels had come down heavily on their editorial budgets. As the senior reporters have all been laid off or resigned, the only ones who were ready to work for a measly sum were the trainees. Since the media houses were not ready loosen their purse strings for talents, it had its pitfalls. The standard of these trainees were appalling. Forget about their own beats, most of them didn’t have any idea of working in a city like Mumbai.
As the years passed by, I realised that media houses (including prominent media ones) were getting infested by these, so-called trainees and interns. They have zero knowledge, zero training, zero common sense and just about four zeroes in their salaries.
A few days back, I came across this post by actor Renuka Shahane. She recounted a conversation she had with a journalist. It appears hilarious if you read it for the first time. Here goes…
Thank you ma’am for pointing out how mediocre some journalists are.
But ma’am, they are the ones who have replaced experienced and trained journalists because the companies cannot afford experienced people anymore. They are the ones, who think that news copies can spin out Twitter, Instagram or Facebook posts. Their duty rosters typically include sitting behind a computer and check social media posts of celebrities.
Before you make a sweeping statement against the quality of journalism in India, we request you to kindly hit pause for a moment. You don’t get good journalists today because nobody is ready to pay them. Experienced journalists are leaving the profession in droves (or are being laid off) because they can’t afford to live in a city like Mumbai on such low salaries. There is immense pressure to perform, break exclusive stories and be on the job 24X7 but the compensation is that of a daily labourer. If you are a senior, your boss is constantly sitting on your head asking you to justify your salary. None of the journalists are given time to research for their stories or do homework. The mantra in the newsrooms today is: Break stories everyday and make them go viral. Virality of the stories is the key, not veracity.
Today, you can feed these trainees anything through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and the newbie journalists will gladly accept it as fact. There’s nobody to scrutinise or verify.
You want to make news? Just post a status on Facebook. You did that recently about Salman Khan and it received more attention than the floods in Assam or even the terror attack in Quetta.
No doubt, these days I have a handful of students opting to study Journalism and when the rooms for advertising and PR courses, are crammed.
Journalism is almost dead. Because nobody can afford Journalism anymore.
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