Reporting truth with empty pockets

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  • Breathing in the shadows of precarious jobs, delayed, shrinking paychecks, and massive layoffs

The situation is dire and uncertain. The old watchdog (read print) is down on its knees. The new kids (read various social media sites) are all set to rule the roost. The mighty giant of telly too is feeling the pinch. Journalism was once the domain of truth-seekers who wanted to unveil the underbelly of mighty is now the pulpit for anyone who could generate ‘views’ and ‘likes’. The zenith is long gone. The battle for survival has begun. The optimist will say it’s a global phenomenon, the actual sufferers prefer being mum.

The roaring 2000s of media are over, dead, gone and buried. The only remnants left of that time are falling prey to the onslaught of social media, reduced cash flow, dwindling government advertisements, massive saturation, advances in news gathering techniques, and newsrooms hooked on parasitism, monitoring, editing and rephrasing ‘news’ by other sources. The first victims of this new reality are newspapers. Big, small, English, Urdu, regional, national, enjoying massive readership or catering to a fringe segment, the reduction in numbers of those who read newspaper is in nosedive across the board. The online advertisements, although all pervasive, are yet to replace the traditional advertisement. The costs to print dailies are getting high by the day, the returns are not enough to keep organisations afloat.

The old, reliable reader willing to shell out couple of hundred rupees every month and hooked on reading his paper with morning breakfast is fast vanishing. The ubiquitous presence of cellphone has made access of news, free news from countless sources to be exact, so hassle free and easy that the very simple act of opening and skimming through the newspaper feels tiresome.

The job of a journalist is to tell people the goings-on that affect them. What is wrong in their country, what is at the bottom of all that ails their community, how their city managers are hoodwinking them. And we did that, once, dear reader. We were the muckrakers. We were hooked on telling stories. We dug out skeletons that were interred deep. We haunted those who reigned supreme over the great unwashed.

Now, we are the haunted. Now, we the once hunters are being hunted. The time had some other fate for us in store. What we are now has no semblance with what we were. We, the journalists, brought mightiest of presidents down, we made world see that in the name of winning ‘hearts and minds’ millions were slaughtered at the altar of ‘Great War for the World’, we trained ‘Spotlight’ on the pious who abused kids and robbed them of their innocence.

Now, the doom sellers are doomed. Now those who are trained to highlight what is neither normal nor regular are under stress and existential threat

Our fall was not sudden, it was gradual and constant. We taught our viewers hoot when they see someone being made fun of his missing leg, we got them to howl when they hear the fictitious tale of elopement being attributed to someone’s sister, they savor the nasty innuendos, they enjoy covertly-sexual insinuations and allusions that disparage another human being. Now their glee, it seems, lies in all things abusive, shallow and horrid.

All good things come to an end, they say. Some things don’t die, they wither away, they also say. The good old journalism was basically about telling stories that matter. And we, the journalists were people who reported actual happenings loaded with facts and figures.

We are the sellers of doom and spreaders of gloom. As I’ve written in these pages before we’ll tell you that economy is in shambles, God has forsaken mankind in entirety, the world is at the brink of a complete collapse, two global powers will lock horns and once they are done fighting nothing will remain, there ain’t enough food to feed us, there ain’t enough resources to go around, and society is nothing but a den of evil inundated sad, depraved individuals who do infernal things like rape, murder, slaughter, corruption, nepotism and hundred other pathetic deeds to others who are weak and powerless.

Now, the doom sellers are doomed. Now those who are trained to highlight what is neither normal nor regular are under stress and existential threat. Now, we who thrived on scandals, scams, irregularities, corruption, abuse of power, illegalities, murder, gore, filth, and sensationalism are running out of time to secure our livelihoods.

It is said that first journalists were messengers. They were athletes who could run faster than anyone else in the tribe and were used to send messages of extreme importance to nearby tribes. We, the journalists are inheritors of those agile runners. And like our ancestors we are running. They ran to deliver information, we are running out of time.