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The 'misplaced' passion of being a journalist

Bikram Vohra (Between the Lines)
Filed on November 23, 2019 | Last updated on November 23, 2019 at 10.24 pm

Were we childlike in our innocence when we believed (and still do) that this was never a job, no nine to five, it was a mission.

I am appalled to learn that a very senior journalist has switched sides and gone to political PR where he will build up the image of those upon whom he once was a watchdog and sentinel on behalf of a relatively helpless public.

I do not believe it when I hear it but it is true.

I asked him why on earth he would be so treacherous as to become a gramophone voice. Not that I have anything against modern PR which resolutely writes better than professional journalists and has upped the bar with depth and content. My daughter is in it full time and it is no longer about pleasing the boss but creating branding and maintaining a consistent image in that specific niche market.

It is very hard work and frequently underestimated but it is not journalism in the traditional sense and if you have spent decades in this business of telling it like it is you cannot cross the street.

So I say that to him. I say, how could you cross the street, you are a journalist not a corporate glossover (my word and I coined it to indicate people who paint over flaws).

Got tired, he says, the romance just oozed out, too many enemies, no money, this suits and tie stuff may look boring to you but is okay, it is safe and it is comfortable, easier to pay the bills and what are we doing anyway in media that is so exciting, bought and paid for.

You walked out because of the money? My voice choked on the flawed sentiment, newspapering was never about the money. Suffering financially was integral to it. The good was interred with your bones every day, the evil galloped into the night and early morning hours.

He is unaffected by my sense of hurt.

Yep, journalism isn't what we crack it up to be, it is going down the tube, take off your rose coloured specs, mate, and smell the coffee, there is no Horatius at the bridge, fending off the foes of mankind, wake up, no one cares anymore about our crusades. He says, we are delusional, we thought we could make a difference, it was only fooling ourselves, no one cares.

They were never crusades, I snap back, they were the balancing factors between the 'them' and 'us', we had a role, to keep the ship straight.

Ha, he responds, the arrogance of it all, you really thought we had a hand on the tiller, let me repeat this, we don't make any darn difference, even that mirage vanished years ago, PR, journalism, newsmakers, the singers and the songs, the sizzle and the steak, same difference, you want to be a romantic, go ahead, but get real.

What went wrong that we have blank walls on our hall of fame because there are no heroes left. That we sold our souls to the company store or each other down the river, stooping to surrender when we should have walked tall.

Maybe people like him were not true journalists, just good writers doing a job. Were we childlike and na´ve in our innocence when we believed (and still do) that this was never a job, no nine to five, it was a mission, a commitment, we had no choice, damned and blessed as we were to spend our lives building and being bridges over troubled waters.

I put the phone down and I think that even fifty years in this business it is still the birth of a baby every morning, warts and all, there is still the agony of an error, the sadness of a missed report, the gut-wrenching honesty of putting all your work out in the public forum to be read and critiqued and loathed and liked.

It cannot have all gone down the tube. Not so fast.

There still has to be that fierce sense of ownership about making a paper and bringing it alive. Like literally for us it was a 24-hour cycle of hi voltage madness, each edition akin to creating an entity.

Do we sound foolish and aged and silly speaking like this in an era where technology has blurred the lines and artificial intelligence threatens to write the perfect article, take the perfect picture, leave nothing to conjecture.

So many of us in the business of dispensing news could not have fooled ourselves for so long.

That passion was real, it never dried up, it was a calling. If so, and our tribe had it right, why have so many of us fallen from grace and why has it become so easy to walk away from the fourth estate and not worry whether you left a footprint in the mud.or not. So what if Kilroy was there, he has become dispensable.

Cynicism is changing the dynamics so dramatically that even journalism has melted like ice cream in the sun. Now, everyone is a journalist, the profession diluted by a lack of any filter.

Is it anachronistically stupid and self-indulgent to be starry eyed over the written word?

Probably it is when those that sign up on a publication see it as a job, just another job, big deal.

Yes, indeed, it is a big deal. At least it was.

- bikram@khaleejtimes.com


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