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Neophytes of new media killing good old journalism

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(August 04, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) A Sri Lankan website which claims to be an award winner in citizen journalism recently interviewed a well-known Bangladeshi journalist Kunda Dixit. The interviewer talked at length about how he met him and how he posed some very intelligent questions. There was not a single quote from this journalist. Incidentally the website also has video interviews. Listening and watching this is a frustrating experience. The interviewer does not allow the interviewee to get a word in edgeways. His questions take longer than the interviewee’s response. Cameras focus more on the interviewer than the interviewee.

So much for website journalism which is a piece of cake; it hardly needs much editing since spell-check, Thesaurus and dictionary will sort out your mistakes. Electronic editing can take away your blunders in the new information super highway unlike old time journalism. Every Tom, Dick and Harry becomes an editor. Most have not had a foot in print journalism.

Mushrooming websites fail to comprehend the tenets of journalism and one of and the most important of these is to keep yourself and your own importance away from the reporting. Audience, readers and viewers are not interested in the reporter. Rather, they are more concerned with the subject and the person or people involved.

The late Daryll de Silva and Ivor Milhuisen at the Daily News use to shut me up when I complained a fellow senior journalist who served as sub-editor made it a habit to take away my by-line for the city edition. “Pearl, nobody gives a toss who wrote the story and nobody is interested in you. They want news and news only,” they told me. Did they bring me down a peg or two and their sagely advice stood me in good stead in my mature years.

Sub-editors, that dying breed, rendered a valuable service to reporters. They corrected their abominable spelling, grammar, facts and statistics. Then the proof-readers sitting round in a circle in a cramped room read the proofs under magnifying glasses until they passed muster by the chief proof-reader. The present day Masters Degree holders in mass media cannot light a candle to these old-timers when it comes to grammar, punctuation and headlines.

The sub-editors and proof readers ate and breathed literature and they knew the nuances of the language and semantics. They could quote chapter and verse from Shakespeare to Byron and Keats. They did not enter the portals of universities or tout degree medals on their shirts. Rather they worked for a pittance and worked diligently and with pride. Their SSCs (Senior School Certificates) were on par or above the Masters Degrees current universities are churning out. Most of all, these under-stated civil servants are most humble and do not tout their credentials.

Young mass media graduates have their uses and they are adept at picking up new-fangled technology fast. But they are not taught the rudiments of journalism of the old school in that they cannot be arsed with trekking to the place of action. They sincerely and truly believe technology will provide them with the necessary media outlet while they sit in comfort on swivel chairs in front of their computers and news would just fall on their laps.

More to the point they have been conditioned to believe their good looks and their mastery of the latest Blackberry, I-phone and other fancy gadgets would open doors to the new media.

It is not uncommon to come across a new mass media graduate who would spell care as `cair’. And if you ask whether he/she had heard of Shakespeare they would stare at you with a withering look which says, ‘duh, who is that when he is at home?’

Well, one could hark back to the good old days of journalism and reminisce or one could catch up with the new generation media journalists who are like instant coffee. But they still cannot match up to the old school journalists who painstakingly pull you up if you placed a comma instead of a semi-colon. Freshly ground coffee from coffee beans is far better than instant; what do you reckon.

(The writer has been a journalist for 24 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at pearltheva@hotmail.com)

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