- Are we witnessing the end of an era where journalism meant holding power to account?
Another Herald perished. And with it another voice of dissent has been silenced. What remains to be seen is how long others will survive. And the question is will they survive?
The four decade long journey of Herald, a reputed monthly magazine, has come to an end last month. Herald has been relegated to history, where it will remain as just another giant who bit the dust because cruel machinations of market forces pushed it out and buried it deep.
It is said that we journalists are the ears and voice of the deaf and the mute. Many among us believe that this is what we are supposed to be. Also, this is what the deaf and mute expect us to be. Our job 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. We were the muckrakers. We were hooked on telling stories. We dug out skeletons that were buried deep. We hunted the demons that reigned supreme over the great unwashed.
Back in the days, not long ago, our sole concern was to unearth the mess, filth, and dirt behind the spick and span facades of piety and false morality
Back in the days, not long ago, our sole concern was to unearth the mess, filth, and dirt behind the spick and span facades of piety and false morality. People trusted and had faith in us. Now, they are addicted to us. We are like the cocaine addiction they loathe to the core but can’t find comfort and peace without a sniff.
We were heralds. We have lost our message.
What we are now has no semblance or relationship with what we were. We, the journalists, brought mightiest of presidents down, we made the 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, we saved lives by jolting the power to action, we took seven year old children out of factories.
We were a force of good. We were good people on a mission because this is what our business was all about. Not anymore, now we have masters to serve, axes to grind, agendas to perpetuate, narratives to guard, and mindsets to mould so that we can have our way. So that we may buy, sell, trade, and barter favors. ‘Tis how the mighty have fallen, ‘Tis how low the upright have stooped.
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 giants of television too are feeling the pinch. Journalism was once the domain of truth-seekers who wanted to unveil the underbelly of mighty but 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 2000’s 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 numbers of those who read the 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 higher by the day and the returns are not enough to keep organizations afloat.
The old, reliable reader willing to shell out a couple of hundred rupees every month and hooked on reading his paper with morning breakfast is fast vanishing. The ubiquitous presence of cellphones 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.
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.
We were storytellers who turned into heralds of anarchy before edging closer to the cliff. We pick and choose, edit and alter, deface and mar, cut and taint the world as we want you to see and never as it actually is. Fear of the unknown, of untold, of something terribly wrong is our weapon of choice.
Now, our very profession is under a pall of fear. We, once hunters, are being hunted. We, once predators, are now preys. We, once heralds, have now precarious futures where gloom reigns supreme and extinction seems like the only way out.