It appears from a distance that newspaper journalists are listless and idle ideologues, lost in the saga of a by-gone era. This will seem very true if you visit the office in day-time. But in the night, the picture is very different and happening.
Most journalists are creatures of the night, because major newspapers with national circulation go for printing at mid-night and therefore the page deadlines are a few hours before that.
A few days back the news came that a Dawn editor, Murtaza Razvi, had been killed. This left me very pensive. Bollywood keeps paying tribute to itself, from movies like Kaghaz key Phool, Guddi to Om Shanti Om and Khoya Khoya Chand, to name just a few. But other professions don’t have the luxury. Though of late there are some movies depicting journalists in a very Barkha Dutt fashion but newspaper journalists are not as swift and nippy. The print is more reflective, contemplative, slower to respond, over-worked and under-paid. So this one time, I want to write about being a journalist.
A couple of years back I attended a seminar for journalists in hotel Sunfort in Liberty, Lahore. The experience was shocking.
The majority felt aggrieved and exploited. Some were delivering up to ten news reports daily, hadn’t been paid for months or were unemployed for years now. The ascent of a journalist to an analyst, writer and scholar is apparently very smooth but the trick lies in reading, writing and knowing more.
Journalism made so many writers who they are, including Hemingway, Marquez, Dickens, Muhammed Hanif and Khushwant Singh. Journalists who rise up the ranks are very hardworking and brilliant, or else they align themselves with some particular group and ideology. There is a charm and romance in this profession that is readily threatened by TV, cyber-space and sinking subscription rates.
Every page that reaches your door in the morning has been toiled over by half a dozen people. The news, letters, features, op-eds and editorials are just the tip of the iceberg. The lay-out, pictures, captions and ads, have to fall in place, only to be lazily discarded by a bored reader the next morning.
This is not to say that there are no cheats, selfish and ill-researched bigots. But this is a risky profession, with long hours and enormous work-load. Usually the only respite is the sense of satisfaction that follows a completed page. The work soothes a deep sense of idealism that every journalist entails.
Most journalists understand that there won’t be a shutter-down strike when they die. They realise that no rallies or breaking news will occur. But this is not why they do what they do. They know their tea-boy will wonder why they drink tea no more, the colleagues will wish they could work some more and a teenage college student will wonder on his way to the Chemistry class ‑—why that particular idiot writes no more.
This piece was first published in the News on Sunday.