Then and now: My changing avatar as a journalist


Speed is of the essence these days in the news business that’s virtually controlled by Google and Facebook.


Allan Jacob

Published: Thu 25 Mar 2021, 10:44 PM

Journalism was a higher calling when I plunged into the profession more than two decades ago. No, I didn’t stray into it like many others. The spirit of curiosity was my guide. What began as an emotional and personal journey was filled with empathy for those on the sidelines. This wasn’t about me; it was about stories. Their stories, our stories, stories that shape and change the world.

News published by the press was almost like a living, breathing thing that those in power wrestled with but could not subdue in the summer of ’96. There was trust in the media where truth was pursued with vigour. But the dotcom boom busted the legacy media’s tryst with invincibility in the late 90s and early 2000s. That phase gave a pointer to what was to come from the social media and Big Tech revolution we are witnessing now.

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“What’s the peg, the angle?” has been my favourite line while discussing a story. It’s remained a constant despite tectonic shifts in the media industry where technology has become the moving spirit, the guiding light as it were, that, I believe, may have sucked the soul out of news gathering.

I realise people trust Google for information in this era that is being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Even my son does a fact-check on the ‘Big G’ while ignoring the protestations of a resident veteran newsman in the house.

Here’s the new reality:

Step 1: Type in search field or ask assistant; find the name of the person or information about events, get number/s.

Step 2: Curate, rewrite.

Step 3: WhatsApp questions, receive answers via email.

Step 4: Write story.

It’s much easier than the legwork I had to put in two decades ago. My first byline took six months coming after I spent weeks at a railway station gathering information about children and teens who were hired by what was known as the begging mafia. Many were victims of abuse. They, too, were eking out a living, at a price. I can still smell the sweat and stench of those weeks when I take a breath. Later, I hung out with the chief crime reporter and watched a don getting shot by encounter cops who lured him from his den. After a year of living dangerously, I decided to move on from the stench and gore to the comforts of desk life.

Speed is of the essence these days in the news business that’s virtually controlled by Google and Facebook. Substance is passe, or gross. It riles me no end but that’s okay as I have learnt to keep calm and write more about me.

I rarely venture out for stories as I am comfortable in my virtual skin as a journalist who adds more page views. News today may have become virtually social but it has left people confused and conflicted as sources multiply on the web. Add PR and influencers to the mix for a positive spin to a story and what we have is a cover-up.

Indeed, journalism has mutated in keeping with the spirit of these pandemic times as information spreads faster on the web in the blink of an eye. It’s now a creepy, crawly thing driven by search engines, shares, page views and likes. I recently read that journalists at a British newspaper website were up in arms after the management decided to link their pay packages to the page views their stories garnered online. Who knows, I could be a victim next.

But I love the reach of news and its engagement these days. My story or video can go viral in a matter of seconds to the farthest corners of the world and have me feverish with excitement. Feedback flows in an instant as everyone has an opinion. They retweet or post, which makes my day. My online personality, my avatar has grown. My ego has swelled and I continue to earn a living from journalism that has fewer faces.

I am now in my forties and the spirit of curiosity continues to guide me with lots of help from technology and social media. Let me put it this way: the spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak.

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