An affair to forget

Are you really interested in what happened between Hrithik Roshan and Kangana Ranaut? If anything happened between them at all?

Whatever be your answer, the mainstream media, popularly known as MSM has decided we are desperate for more information. I mean, the collective media channels and newspapers think, that we are dying to know what happened between them or didn’t happen between them, over and over again.

They are of the opinion that we are really interested between a fiercely contested consensual relationship between two film stars for FOUR years without respite. For four years, they have been bombarding us with the same information, same facts (or lies), same shots, same graphics… and the same faces!

If you go by the reactions on social media, and if that is any indicator of the current mood of the readers, everybody is saying,

“Please stop. We know everything now. We don’t need to know more. It’s okay if they slept with each other or they didn’t. It’s okay. We don’t want to know. Get this thing out of our face. NOW!”

The audience surely was initially interested when all the dirty details were spilling out, police cases were being filed and the dirty linen was being washed in public.

The problem, now, is: We have already seen the dirt and the washing is long over. How long will you guys, the media, keep talking about the same thing and keep roasting us, the readers?

The problem is: Nobody in the MSM is listening to you, including the hot-shot editors at the MSM powerhouses. You want to know why?

Let me tell you why.

To give you an idea of what’s happening here in the Indian media, I want to take you back to the newsroom where I belonged once as a senior reporter, many years back. It appears that though the medium has largely changed, the mentality (or sensitivity) has gone from bad to worse.

So, this is what used to happen some eight years back in the newspaper newsrooms….

Everyday, we used to have an editorial meeting in the afternoon, it was a fixture wherever I have worked, newspaper or online.

In the afternoon meeting (usually around 3 pm), we decided what we are going to do the next day.

It was in that very meeting that we used to brief the editor about the interviews that we have done, the interviews that we were supposed to do in the evening (or the morning next), the developing news stories, the follow-ups of big news breaks and of course, the ‘exclusives’ which were the most important points of discussions.

For strike (senior) reporters (like me, when I used to be one) these editorial meetings used to be a game of “hold”.

“Hold” is the most important term for senior reporters who are mainly on the lookout for exclusive stories.

The term, ‘Hold’, is used in a sentence as, ‘How many days will the story hold?. It meant the number of days the article will remain relevant and exclusive to the reporter (or the paper). Once we used to get a breaking news story, it didn’t always meant that we immediately released it.

Some of us, used to play the Holding Game with perfection.

This is how we played it.

We, as reporters, knew in our hearts the importance of our breaking stories and how important they were to us.

Alternatively, for the news editors or the editors, the most important role is to prioritise the day’s stories.

So, no matter how important an article is, it will always get prioritised depending on the number of important news stories breaking on that particular day.

For example, you have a breaking and exclusive story about how a section of contractors in the Municipal Corporation usurped money over the years. Important story no doubt. But on the same day, if there’s another breaking story about the a national level politician getting involved in a scam, your Municipal Corporation story will get lesser priority.

But on a day, when the city has witnessed nothing significant or newsworthy, your story might get a page one banner slot (top half) with a “breaking news” tag on top. It is because, on that day, as per priority, your story tops the list.

A day, when nothing significant happens in the country, only routine incidents follow, is called a ‘slow news day’.

For us reporters, when we used to get a breaking story, we always used to find out how many days the story will remain with us. That also included our efforts in extending the ‘hold’ by telling our sources not to tell anybody, keep the documents neatly tucked in a drawer and not discussing it in my office, including during editorial meetings.

The slow news days were a boon to us reporters because it meant our stories will get the top slot. So, we used to keep an eye on what’s happening at the editorial meeting and on news agencies like PTI, UNI and IANS to determine if we are going through a slow news day.

When we were sure that it is going to be a slow news day and we saw the editor retiring in his chamber with a long face, then BAM! That was the opportunity!

We used to brief our stories to him as exclusives. Man, we loved the expression of the editors!

More often than not, on those occasions, the editor used to look at us with so much affection and with so much love that it just fell short of a peck on the cheek.

But there was a larger picture to it too.

I was largely assigned the entertainment bureau. In most media houses, the entertainment bureau works on its own and we hardly used to mingle much with the main news-room unless there were specific reasons for us to work together.

When I used to be in the entertainment bureau of a prominent newspaper, once in a month (sometimes two), the executive editor would hurriedly waltz into the chamber of the entertainment editor, usually just after the entertainment editorial meet got over around 4 pm.

The office had glass cabins and we could see everything that used to go in the cabins.

They would discuss intently and the executive editor would be usually seen holding the day’s entertainment news budget (news-list) in his hand.

Those days were called ‘Jackpot Days’.

Those were the days when the main newspapers didn’t have great news stories for the following day and the executive editor was likely hunting for a breaking story from Bollywood to fill up prime news space.

On those occasions, we used to knock on the doors of the editor, and take out our best stories that were “held” with us.

More often that not, our Bollywood stories ended up getting prime slots (on page one) the next morning.

We also banked on the fact that most mainstream editors and news editors were clueless and often illiterate about Bollywood and the news value of Bollywood information. I have worked with most of them (hot-shot chief editors/ news editors) and can say this with certain amount of certainly that most of the hot-shot editors in India know virtually nothing about Bollywood.

They have traditionally relied on Bollywood editors to ascertain the importance of a story from the film industry.

So, for a reporter, if the story can be briefed well to the bosses on a Jackpot day, then it is likely that the story will end up on page one.

However, I remember very few (probably with one or two exceptions) of the strike reporters, trying to push an old story as a new one. Even though few made the efforts, there were enough people in the newsroom to call the bluff.

But the checks and balances are becoming a thing in the past with decisions in newsrooms turning unilateral and the absence of discussions between editors, simply because in the online or TV scenario, you don’t have the luxury of time.

As a result, a lot of old trash is getting passed as a new news story on a slow news day.

I think the same thing happened with the Kangana-Hrithik Roshan story. What Kangana said on Aap Ki Adalat was nothing new. She has said it before.

However, the news was carried across TV channels because of two reasons: It trended on Twitter and it was slow news day.

What happened a few days earlier, was even more ludicrous.

An old complaint, filed more one year back, was run on a channel as an ‘exclusive’. The contents were known to all. The rebuttal was known to all too. The newspapers too carried it as exclusives without caring for any editorial judgement.

Given my earlier experience, I could imagine what could have led the editor select such an old news as a breaking story. Yes, again it was a slow news day as the city emerged afresh from the horrible stampede at Elphinstone Road and there were no further development on that end.

Blame it on the quality of strike reporters or city editors, the newspapers and channels are gleefully packing an old wine in a new bottle and serving it to us, for the last few days.

The problem is: Our refusal is not reaching their ears.

The collective scream on social media from the readers is somehow not reaching the editors.

There were always slow news days and there will be, in future but it is also true that most news editors are now more ignorant of Bollywood that they ever used to be.

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