Spring. 2013. Almost too hard to give something as recent as this any epic form.
I’ll be honest with you – I had no idea there was any such thing as a Boston marathon. I walked into the kitchen, poured myself a cup of tea. Then the news poured in. Pictures, news reports, snaps from security cameras, and the facts. Oh the ‘facts’! Everybody had the facts. Everybody knew.
Fast toward. Not too much. The small matter of two teenagers on a campus – MIT Boston. Only this time, they had guns.
God bless the internet. By the time my pizza went cold, my internet footprint was swamped with information - Teenagers. Muslim? No. One of Indian origin. Perhaps both. Never mind that. One has been shot. Or maybe not, it was too dark. The other believed to be hiding. Somewhere. How would I know? It is a campus, not my living room!
But then all that was on the other side of the world; I could continue my vicarious existence. Then it struck closer to home. Almost too close for comfort. I sat safe in the confines of the four grey walls of my cubicle, with a cup of coffee for company. Kept oblivious from the outside world, perhaps with good reason. They forgot to unplug me though. Soon enough, the veins were pumping again – pushing those tiny signals through those minuscule wires onto the laptop screen. Maximum impact.
A blast at Malleshwaram. 19 killed, 50 injured. Make that 60. Wait, I might have to count again. Oh wait, I heard a bomb go off in Hebbal. What do you mean how did I hear? I am a person. I hear things. Okay, perhaps it was a gas cylinder at Hebbal. But the one at Malleshwaram was perfectly real. Outside the headquarters of a political party. Oooo, is there a political motive behind this? Maybe yes, maybe not, I’m just thinking aloud.
Soon enough my phone was buzzing with texts that effectively said “Please don’t be dead”. I assured them with all my capacity that I wasn’t.
“What do you mean there was no blast at Marthahalli?”
“That is where I am. If there had been one, I’d have heard.”
“Heard from whom?”
“Heard from everyone.”
Strange, if you think about it. Everybody has the facts. Everybody knows. After all, it is the age of information. It is hard to hide, easy to share, even easier to spread. So everybody will hear anyway. Everybody would know. But then, just ‘knowing’ is not enough. They don’t respect you for knowing. You have to tell. Be the newsman. Be the one to say “Main laaya tha”.
Twitter. Facebook. Blogs. They all turn ‘journalists’; self-proclaimed newsmen. And the news channels, oh how they clamor to get there first. Everybody is in showbiz.
What is at stake? The world. They all wait to listen, some with bated breath, some not. But they all want to know. There is a catch though – you have to be the first, the foremost (and the ‘exclusive’?) to report it. News today, has no shelf life. It is either ‘breaking news’, or it didn’t happen. Either you are the first to report it, or you might as well have scribbled it on your backside. And the ‘journalist’ of today merely obliges.
I mean, who wants to go through entire pages to get a grasp of the situation, right? Get to the point! Give me the numbers! How many are dead? How many more injured? How many pages does the book have? (Let me turn to the last page).
But wait, why is he a journalist then and not a ‘relayer‘? Isn’t he/she more than that franctic young man/woman running to the scene of action with a cameraman struggling to keep up? I thought they inform people, not just tell. Let people understand, not just let them know. Information, after all, is meant to be captured, processed, caressed (and tendered?) to make it meaningful. Otherwise, (as I was taught in my engineering days) it is merely data.
Someone, somewhere, wants to digest a story before passing it on. That someone doesn’t make people’s decisions for them. He lets people understand the situation and make their conclusions themselves. He trusts his fellow citizens to do just that. His role is to first absorb the shock of the blast (sometimes literally), take a composed breath and capture it in a seed of information for his reader. A seed to take root and grow in the readers’ mind, not his own. That would be the real ‘journalist’.
And he is a dying breed.