Ask anyone about newspapers these days and their eyes seem to glaze over. Newspapers belong to the era of one’s grandfather, to a bygone age when trees were felled, wood smashed into paper pulp, and printed to carry day-old news. They are quaint, their total obsolescence forestalled only through the continued existence of the likes of the New York Times, the WSJ, The Guardian, Le Monde and all those venerable broadsheets which still shape national policy the world over.
In my incarnation as a journalist, I mostly describe myself as a newspaperman (new media man/person just doesn’t sound right). Big mistake. Maybe. After all, why would I attribute myself as being part of an archaic order that is being gradually hacked to oblivion by television and the internet? Back in 2007-08, when I was graduating from college in the US, the national consensus of journalism was that it was dead as we knew it — in the form of newspapers and magazines anyway. Pundits proclaimed the rise of the citizen journalist, the neighborhood scribe (aka Joe Schmo and Mary Jane) who stalked the streets, taking to online forums to report on what he or she saw, replacing traditional reporting, and triggering the demise of those great hulking, lumbering dinosaurs called newspapers, in a vastly more clinical and aesthetic fashion than fire from the heavens ever could. These scribes, the pundits said, would give rise to Social Journalism — a transparent and community driven form of news gathering. And here I was with my newly minted BA in English Lit and Mass Comm. Did I feel like a dope.
But what the pundits, with their eager-beaver prognostications, failed to understand was that journalism is a trained profession, much like how lawyers are trained, although without the required longevity of law school. Imagine if suddenly one day, the experts declared lawyers obsolete, and declared the rise of the citizen-lawyer? Well, we’ve all heard the one about the man who acted as his own counsel.
Newspaper journalism is a white collar profession, a noble profession arguably tainted through the interference of media barons, incompetent publishers, corporate advertising, and quisling, piss-poor editorialists. At its core, it is a profession which only seeks to illuminate, to explain and to inform, at the cost of near anonymity. Let’s face it. Nobody every really became famous merely working in papers, except for maybe Gay Talese and others whose names escape me. I rest my case. But mostly it’s all about shining a light on issues to help create a more informed public. These are the reasons which drew me to print. That is not to say that the same cannot be achieved in new media. It almost always is. Newspapers simply feel more tangible and vetted. And there happens to be a divide of pedigree between print and online news (blame the system).
The hypocritical and lazy part of my journalistic nature, however, sees to it that my primary source of quick news at home comes from an online portal — the BBC World app, with another 15% gleaned from the New York Times app. It is rumored that the BBC uses a “robot,” an advanced algorithm to write some of its stories. Which seems to explain why I seem to get exactly what I paid for, which is zero. Many of the articles have regurgitated facts. They seem to have been written by a 12-year-old. They fail to ask and answer the most basic of questions.
The economic part of my nature, in contrast, saw me working for a respected national broadsheet in South India called the Deccan Herald, doing exactly what I love — covering international news and informing the public over issues running the gamut from the Syrian Civil War, Donald Trump, MH370, wildfires in California, to Brexit, the Mediterranean migrant crisis, to elections in Sri Lanka.
Why India? For one, newspapers continue to thrive there. Second, because the economic situation for journalists of all mediums in the US is dire — and has been since 2007. It is just now sinking in that the American Dream is in big trouble. Maybe it never really existed and was simply a product of post-WWII optimism. Perhaps it was an ethos brought into existence by sheer force of the American “can-do” spirit which ran high until 9/11. The rot may have set in earlier, in the 1980s, when corporations, attracted to low-cost Chinese labor decided to make China the factory of the world. The end result: the iPhone, and a hundred Chinese clones, a resurgent Beijing with an iron hold over US debt, growing dominance in Africa and recently, defiance over UN rulings over reef-building activities in the South China Sea. But I digress. My point is that when one pillar of an economic platform goes, things gets wobbly.
In such a situation, the only thing left for all able men and women to do — as the old saying goes — is to go “west.” Only, there are no latitudes anymore, only longitudes. At the Deccan Herald, I had near unlimited freedom to choose and analyze, for the general public, all the major stories of the day. In this era of dominance by TV and online news, newspapers must offer readers something they cannot often get from these two mediums — fresh content, visuals, context and an indepth look at stories. Fortunately, my role as editor in-charge of a high-profile foreign news page (although on page 13 — one would think unlucky, but not so) came not only with a leeway to shape the newspaper’s editorial policy, but also allowed me to employ a variety of skills to achieve the hitherto mentioned goals – with some tasks being beyond the scope of my job title.
All the pages displayed below (posted for purely selfish reasons, by the way, to show off my work — in case you hadn’t guessed), were wholly conceived, edited and designed by myself. This includes the creation of new graphics or the major modification of graphics obtained on license from Agence France-Presse (AFP) and the New York Times. The choice of stories and photos was also my own and thus I am wholly responsible for all content — and any errors. Some of the slug choices, however, were not of my making. One particularly wince-worthy example appears on a tribute page to Robin Williams, a day after his death. Many of the photo cutouts were created by the paper’s graphics department. As anyone in newspapers can tell you, the graphics people are some of the hardest working and hardest pressed folks you will find.
I write all this to reveal the ridiculous and intricate amount of work that goes into bringing the news to your doorstep or desktop, and my final segue, although clunky, is this: without the public’s support of responsible media (yes, the mainstream media), we are headed for trouble. If that doesn’t at least convince you to subscribe to a newspaper, then consider this: all newspapers are ultimately recycled into toilet paper. No newspapers, no bog roll. Now, who would want that?
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