Shishir Joshi: Journalism needs PR, desperately

17 Sep,2012

By Shishir Joshi

 

“You guys have changed the way we watch news,” I remember an elderly businessman’s rather appreciative remark, when I had told him I work for a news network. This was a little over fifteen years ago. What he was referring to was his experience as a viewer of the earliest versions of the English Star News (then produced by NDTV) as opposed to years and years of watching state-owned Doordarshan.

 

The world has come full circle. “You guys have changed the way we watch news,” is what a lot of people have begun saying to me, once again. However, this time, the appreciation of the previous decade has been replaced by a look otherwise reserved for skunks. Why have we become the favourite punching bags? How fair is the criticism? Are we, media or journalists, being singled out? Truth be told, journalism has invaded our lives to an extent second only to cell phones. And while one can debate on the boons and banes of a cell phone in our life, increasingly, people are finding nothing but faults in the journalism that they see or read. While there can be many a reason for journalism reaching such lows, there surely has been one defining image and line which has made us the butt of many a joke, and ridicule. And that is of a young, always-in-doubt-but-never-wrong journalist, clutching a ‘boom’ mike and seeking an answer for the priceless “aapko kaisa lag raha hai” question. This one line has been the unifying link between the umpteen reportages on rapes, molestations, thefts, murders, victories, losses, triumphs and earthquakes that we have seen on news television through interviews of people, common or uncommon. But the problem is larger.

 

Increasingly, media practices and media men have become a subject of greater scrutiny. And for a profession which had been regarded so highly, gossip about A, B or She journalist’s fall is consumed with great sadistic pleasure. And to top it, there hasn’t been one big story in recent times where the credibility of some or the other mighty hasn’t been questioned. Be it Aroon Purie and his jet-lagged editorial, portions of which were picked up from Slate.com, or the ‘Radiagate’ tapes where the mightiest in television seemed to be breaking bread with bed-switchers, or down south, where the Hindu’s honcho N Ram conveniently edited colleague Chitra Subramaniam’s name from the Bofors’ expose’ credit lines, we seem to have been there and done that. It has been summed up scathingly by BV Venkat Rao in http://www.firstpost.com/india/why-the-fall-of-xerox-zakaria-is-unthinkable-in-indian-media-430088.html.

 

The list seems unending. Every state seems to have a case too many of such violations. If Guwahati saw journalists accused of provoking molesters for a video story, Mumbai saw the arrest of a journalist on charges of conspiring to eliminate a former colleague. The latest is from Karnataka where journalists have been arrested as part of an ISI plot. The book threatens to get only thicker. There was a time when we had politicians, parliamentarians, businessmen, gangsters, extortionists, showmen and lobbyists, and social workers. Categories of businesses, vocations and professions. And then you had journalists, the ‘clean’ guys. Today, that line appears tampered with. It is either people from the ‘other’ categories doubling as journalists (and media owners) or worse, journalists wearing multiple hats. But this is not about where we have gone wrong. Or why.Or the ‘sensational’ and ‘breaking news’ which have become eyesores. It is about the numerous stories, the game changers, which miss our attention. For every 26/11 reportage where we have been accused of crossing the ethical line, there has been a December 3, when lakhs converged at the Gateway of India to express anger against the political spineless, resulting in ministers losing their jobs.

 

For every free housing scheme that journalists have grabbed from Chief Ministers through the so called “press quota”, there has been the unearthing of the Adarsh scam, the CWG or the 2G scam. And for every Radiagate which saw journalists cross an ethical line, there has been a Coalgate expose. Relentless. Unending. Cases of exemplary journalism abound in non-urban, non-English media too. What I have pointed out are less than a handful of the hundreds of fabulous stories and efforts which journalists are working on, day in and out. For every Rakhi Sawant who gets some airtime on a news network, there are countless unsung heroes who are encouraged to become citizen journalists too, thanks to inspiring journalism. For every saanp-bicchoo story which makes it to some crime show of a news channel, there is also the story of a braveheart hospital attendant who saved lives in operation theatres when trained medical help was not within reach. For every case of public humiliation or molestation that gets played up for alleged TRP gains, there are stories of faces-in-the-crowd standing up against a road-rage bully. The 48-hour rescue operation of little Prince from a borewell in north India is now an oft repeated case study of the levels to which news networks have stooped for TRPs. But, was it only TV channels which gained or did the village also get transformed thanks to the media and political attention? Yes the latter did take place. But nobody seems to be talking about it. Or is it that people are no longer watching?

 

Yes, journalism is indeed in need of serious review. Internally. And externally too. External autopsies have been done time and again. In these challenging times, under the guise of upholding free speech and democracy, every Narendra, Raj or Abu has tried surgical procedures to silence the media. For masses, it is vicarious pleasure over a cuppa chai. There is no doubt that for a vibrant democracy to thrive, it can’t be a more welcome change. Having said that, what journalism now needs is a desperate makeover. If to woo a Marathi manoos, an Uddhav can praise an estranged Raj’s political stunt, surely journalism can do with some PR.

 

Networks need to play up some game-changer stories that talk of good journalism. Newspapers and social media could follow suit. Prime time can also have some promotions of non-‘sensational’ but ‘real ‘stories. People, viewers, on the other hand need to get out of their drawing-room gossip mode and start writing in to networks on what they need more, rather than stuff themselves with pap. A bit of PR on image building and reputation management could do wonders to a sagging morale. Don’t get me wrong. We aren’t talking of hiring a PR agency here. But well, in the world of paid and private treaty journalism, a bit of philanthropy from journalism’s first cousin, PR, at least in spirit, can work wonders. Applications are invited. In confidence. Beep beep, pings the inbox. Applications have already begun pouring in. Uh oh. …Anybody other than Nira Radia please…?

 

For those away from ground reality, journalism and PR have always shared a love-hate relationship. Journalists are accused of being egoistic, badly behaved (on the phone) and always ones to take a short cut. PR people on the other hand are seen to be clueless at their jobs, too busy ‘selling’ a story rather than defining it on merit, and flaky. Can the twain, then, meet?

 

Shishir Joshi is the co-founder of Journalism Mentor, and till recently was Group Editorial Director of the Mid-Day group of publications.

 

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3 responses to “Shishir Joshi: Journalism needs PR, desperately”

  1. Dale Bhagwagar says:

    Why is it that only journalists are considered to be the torchbearers of society. Aren’t PR’s equally responsible for the same? I am reminded of Viv Segal’s words here: “PR means telling the truth and working ethically – even when all the media want is headlines and all the public wants is scapegoats. Public relations fails when there is no integrity.”

  2. V.Ganapathy says:

    This is really relevant and you have stated it well.

  3. Alok says:

    A very few journalists like me would agree with your analogy–so truthful and incisive. A majority manning newsrooms only aspire to rub shoulders with high and mighty by ‘selling’ merits.

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