Monday, December 20, 2010

The Newsroom - Part 1

An afternoon can often be boring, an afternoon without a crisis is worse. Everyone stares at a computer terminal, vigorously typing and deleting what need not have been typed in the first place. The Boss is often away, in the guise of meetings, he must be snoring after a good meal. But then only one in a hundred can be the Boss, the rest of us have to act as if we are awake and busy.

Crisis in the world is time for each newsroom to feel very important. They are part of the crisis, their commentary is required and their analysis will be forced down on the rest of society. And a lazy afternoon can turn into a desperate quest for space. All that happens when there's a crisis.

But there's one crisis that has hit newsrooms, a crisis that the scribe tribe cannot comment or react to, and that's the crisis when there's no crisis in the world. What can they write about, what can they comment upon, what can they analyze and throw at the world outside. In short how do they justify their existence?

There are different types of crisis. A large crisis is when the boss is very busy and doesn't care for what you are doing. A small crisis is when the boss feels relaxed and has delegated the responsibility for it to be made to appear like a large crisis. But then a no crisis is when it means crisis is going to hit you.

You can often know a no crisis day the moment you walk into office, the man in charge ambles in with a very pleasant smile, suddenly he realizes your existence and says "Hello". What comes next is something that requires a good deal of imagination to answer. "What's happening today"? The honest answer should be “Nothing”, but honesty can often be at one's own peril and so you need say many things before you say “nothing”.

And so it starts "Well... this was supposed to be happening but it hasn't and that was supposed to be happening, but it happened yesterday and since it's not happening today we cannot report it today...And yes you remember that was also supposed to happen but it's been cancelled"

You stop there without saying that the long and short of it is that nothing's happening today or at least you cannot make anything happen today.

The boss smiles and walks away, he searches for his next victim. Can't blame him, can you? He needs to make something happen. Then something happens and something else gets reported and then we have something, which means nothing to the world but a big thing to those who were pondering over nothing.

But if nothing happens for a continuing period of time say 3 days, then it means the crisis is getting worse. That's when the Boss walks in with a grumpy face and the regular "What's happening today" is replaced with a grouchy and angry "You did nothing yesterday, are you going to do something today?" He does not wait for an answer he's asked the same question to the next, and then the next, and then the next victims. And you'd better think of the right answer before the other victims come up with theirs. When you bail the boss out on a no crisis day, it's often remembered for a long time. Hopefully long enough till he decides on your raise.

And so you say you will do it. Someone told you something a few days back and you decided that you would spin it around and make it into something. It needs to have a bit of everything. It needs to touch the rest of the society, it needs to have a semblance of truth, it should be something that cannot be completely contradicted, it should be something the boss wouldn't get angry about, it should appear to be true and most importantly it should make you look a like a damn good reporter.

And so we begin making our choices. The soft targets include terrorism, national security, politics etc. Politics can be easy, especially because the politician enjoys lesser credibility than the journalist, whatever you say will be construed as true and for the politician it simply does not matter. He's just happy his face is splashed all over the newspaper or the television channel as long as it’s not too controversial.

The particular advantage with a politician is he can say anything but we will make out what we want of it. For instance if you ask a politician

"Are you going to ally with such and such a party" and the answer is
"At the moment we will not and there are no such plans".

You could make it look like either he's ruled out an alliance or you could say he used the phrase "At the moment" so it means he's not ruled out an alliance in the future. Then if it suits you better you could say that for the record he's said what he did, but we know the truth and the truth is what I say.

The problem with politics is that it doesn't always sell; the other problem is if the particular politician knows your boss very well and can tell your boss that you’re an idiot. The boss knows it already, after all you’re working for him and he's no better, but when someone rubs it in it could become trouble. So it's better to avoid the politician till you’re sure. The world outside also has a particular disinterest in political nuances and so it's not spicy enough.

Terrorism and National Security are super soft targets. We've got so many of those e-mails floating around; we've got as many idiots with guns coming in from everywhere. And the world is forced to be afraid of it.
So how do we use terror to fight the terror of the boss and make it into the terror of news. I just realized that this piece that I am writing out of “Nothing” is getting a little extra long for someone with something in his head and hence for the “terror” research I shall write a separate piece. It will be released shortly on this blog and we will call it the Newsroom – Part 2 – “Terror for the News”.