Coolie journalism

IN Media Practice | 13/08/2005
It is much easier playing the confession box than acting the watchdog




 Reprinted from the Indian Express, August 11, 2005





Bhawana Somaaya         



Something has happened to our icons. Our industrialists, politicians, spiritual leaders and superstars. Nobody, it appears, can contain themselves any more.


There was a time we writers had to through relentless interviews to unearth what went on in their heads and hearts. It took a lot of effort to analyse their silences, their pauses.


Today, it’s no more necessary to go through that laborious exercise. Icons will willingly share a professional crisis, a personal tragedy, a misunderstanding with a colleague, even a sex scandal. Today, a journalist need no longer go sniffing for a scoop because the celebrity will from time to time give out clarifications, if not via one-on-one interviews then via press releases and press conferences.


Why is it that the dream merchants, the film stars in particular, are so eager to share their private life and thoughts with the fourth estate? It’s embarrassing to read a Priyanka Chopra agonise over her cancer stricken father in print or an Amitabh Bachchan explain trivial matters like the release of Sarkar pitched against Shah Rukh Khan’s Paheli.


Whether it is a new publicity campaign (Sarkar), a new film (James) or a new starcast (Sholay), why must Ram Gopal Varma be so impatient to share the news with reporters, considering he has still to begin shooting the film.


Granted that these statements are usually provoked by reporters hounding the stars with desperate text messages. Or that they are caught offguard by the electronic media when attending other public functions. But it’s not as if the celebrities are ignorant of the game. They tolerate the encroachment because it has compensations. The grievances could be a serious matter or something frivolous but everyone wants to reveal his side of the story. From Sanjay Kapur and Randhir Kapoor to Smriti Irani and Rekha Modi, the list is endless.


Stars of yesteryear preferred to internalise their conflicts. They had an inherent faith that time would reveal the truth. Not surprising, then, that in days bygone, patience was considered a virtue and silence was golden.


Everyone wants immediate solutions today. Every week, there are public apologies, legal notices and court cases. The defense given is that in a stress-filled profession, the stars don’t want to accumulate more baggage.


Consequently, journalists looking for juicy stories have been reduced to playing coolies. Day after day, they unload the excess baggage of stars (the quotable quotes) into newsprint. After all, it is so much easier playing the confession box than playing the watchdog of society. Besides, in times of fast food journalism, who has the appreciation for reflective reportage? Today, journalism is all about having access. 


Somaaya is editor of Screen, a division of The Indian Express Newspapers
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