May 27, 2012
R P Srinivasan
LOS ANGELES - As a journalist from India on a holiday here with my family, I did all the things visiting tourists to this part of California do… time at Disneyland, Legoland, Sea World, Old Town In Diego, the San Diego Zoo. Of course my holiday would be incomplete without Hollywood, so went there as well. Saw Universal Studios, Beverly Hills etc. Great fun too, I must add.
Like they say over here: “Had a blast!”
And after I ticked off the last item on our whirlwind family holiday ‘must do’ agenda, I decided I needed a holiday of my own. I told my brother, who has a lovely house in LA, I was going to spend the day watching TV and reading newspapers. Could he get me some since none came to his house?
I’m used to getting six newspapers courtesy of my own newspaper back home in Bangalore and missed not knowing about what was happening in the world. It was time to catch up.
My brother came back with three newspapers – Los Angeles Times, LA Daily News and a Pakistani newspaper called Pakistan Link. “I thought you might enjoy that,” my brother said, waving the Pakistani newspaper.
“It’s a Pakistani newspaper,” I pointed out, “Not Indian.”
“Same thing,” he said and walked off.
I started with the Pakistani newspaper and quickly came to the conclusion that it was out there for the sake of being out there and I can assure you I was not being an ultra patriotic Indian twit or something ridiculous like that. Plain fact; it was a rotten newspaper. It had no character, the stories were weak and uninteresting and there was barely any international news. Indeed there was barely any Pakistani news. We have more in Indian newspapers; How disappointing.
Surely there must be a few good Pakistani journalists in California?
And then I started on the two American newspapers. Sorry, I mean LA newspapers. Once again I was disappointed. Here were two newspapers that harped on about issues that really didn’t make sense to me. Irrelevant things like bus schedules, train schedules, a battle of burgers, artistes wanting ‘invisible dirt lot noticed’, police officer’s ex-wife arrested, bus driver arrested, home sales up, gang related news etc…
Excuse me… were these newspapers or service and facility provider guides? I could have found much of such information in the yellow pages.
After half an hour I put both newspapers down. There was nothing there. No news in the sense we know it as back home. No hardcore political stories, no really catching human interest story, big economic-related story, no really worthwhile international story – there’s a whole world out there and nothing worthwhile on these 100 or so pages of newsprint.
Everything seemed so politically correct, so sensitized and filtered. The language seemed suppressed and forced. In India we would call it self-censorship.
These were stories without gumption. Like my news editor keeps on reminding me: “You have to have the balls to write. Don’t give me ‘he said, she said’ stories. Don’t give me obvious and boring stories. I need masala.” These were those stories. These were those reports. They lacked masala.
Furthermore, the language in which the reports were written would have been more appropriate and suited to a DIY manual than news reports; either unnecessarily convoluted or overly devoid of cohesive, attractive language.
I guess I ended up being more confused than I had ever been about journalism and I have been in journalism for over 15 years.
Which brings me to another contentious point, following one hour’s viewing local news channels in utter amazement/amused interest.
Yes … OMG!!
It’s local news, local news and local news which would not warrant three minutes time on any Indian channel worth its salt. No international news, barely any national news… so carefully and deliberately self-contained.
Of course I would be forced to think that this is a result of closed minds afraid of outside influence and knowledge. Such containment of news leads to ignorance of the rest of the world, cultures, history, geography, history, current news. People need to know what’s happening out there. I certainly needed to know.
Do you think I, or half a million other people in Bangalore would care if a tree had fallen on some God forsaken road in some isolated village?
I think not.
But we would certainly be interested in knowing if Pakistan was carrying out a missile test, if there was a financial crisis in London, a natural disaster in Africa, an upheaval in the Middle East, proof that a certain politician had been detained for corruption, that the standard of education was dropping, that some Indian had performed well on the world stage in some field or the other…. etc, etc.
We would also be interested in knowing if there was something going on the local front… like water shortage in the city. But we would not be interested in knowing somebody had invented a specific clip on reflector for children’s school bags.
Most of all, what really irritated me is that we have forever been benchmarking ourselves against Western media. Why?
Then, such words as ‘cool’, ‘chill’ ‘sweet’ and ‘awesome’ have made it to the main pages and news bulletins. Phrases such as ‘bringing one’s A game’ and ‘executing one’s game plan’ seem so flippant and inadequate and yet they are frequently used.
The vocabulary seems contained, closed in and controlled.
Are American news channels and newspapers targeted at high school dropouts?
Certainly seems so.
That’s not so cool. Not awesome at all!!
(The author is a guest writer for JournalismPakistan.com)
The Nation, December 3, 2017