Friday, July 30, 2010

Why I Didn't Become A Journalist

Ladies & Gentlemen, believe it or not, once upon a time, I was actually contemplating a career as a journalist. I had always been a pretty good writer (as well as public speaker, poet, rugby player, Star Craft player, Checkers Champ, etc but why be arrogant about my God given talents?) I was in high school, in Karachi Grammar School (KGS) when I first started writing professionally (getting paid; I was trying to earn my way to my first cell phone), I was a pretty productive writer (unashamedly money, resume and intellect driven), I even founded a 'Journalism Society' (read "Club I founded & appointed myself President; true Pakistani style"). I used to write incessantly for the likes of  Dawn group's Young World, Education Pages, Review, Books & Authors, The Star (Designated: Youth Editor), etc. Many assumed that I'd continue on with that writing fervor and commit my career (and possibly my potentially short-lived life) to journalistic endeavor.

Well, I didn't. I discovered this wonderfully practical thing called economics, then finance and voila here I sit today, a cog in Pakistan's well functioning Financial juggernaut. I have no regrets and never will. But I still write, and will probably continue to do so till it utterly bores the inspiration right out off me.

 As far as I was concerned, it wasn't a bait and switch to get into college (I had a phenomenal resume and list of extra currics). I was actually more than mildly interested in journalism. I could write, I had an inquisitive mind, a flair for witty prose, but sadly I lacked passion for journalism, the search of truth in itself. Perhaps more importantly (to me anyway) I discovered that I didn't actually like most journalists. For a social animal like myself, great people to work with tend to matter.

The media industry, as cool as some of it's folk are, is heavily laden with self-important, overly clever, under talented individuals *who*seemed to be put on this earth to aggravate my early morning happiness. Now, to be fair, I'm a rather judgmental  person and not the greatest morning person to start with, but I'm forgiving, have an analytical mind and tend to care about the news; quite a nice lad infact.

Journalists seem to enjoy this "I'm searching for the truth & enduring hardships" mindset that may seem adorable to an 13 year old idealist child, but I found it (and still find it) extraordinarily annoying. All these veteran truth seekers seem to want to talk about was how much secret information (dirt) they had, how the government tries to hide the truth (which I'm sure they do), or how some XYZ person was completely corrupt and how they were going to uncover the truth and expose them all for their crimes (probably guilty); they barely ever did; they were however, very quick to blame the government and their publishers who probably wanted something called 'verifiable sources'.

I do recall an occasion where one particularly irrate pompous Journalist was claimed that the government refused to allow him entrance into a particularly dangerous hostile area. It was a hot spot for decapitations and murders...can you blame the government for not allowing journalists in the area? I don't. Now if they did let the Journalist in question get himself killed, the head lines would rage about how insecure the area and how the government ought to have provided personal protection to the individual. Which if the government actually did they'd be criticized by the Journalist for constraining his movement and not letting him get the entire picture. It's a perfect damned if you and damned if you don't situation. Because a newspaper always seeks a headline, even if it has to create one. That's another thing I hate about journalists, everything is in hindsight.

On the rare occasion that these stalwarts of truth, justice and freedom were successful in uncovering whatever massive conspiracy they had arduously pursued, they always seemed embittered by how little people cared. How ignorant the general populace was about their ground breaking achievements (Most failed to realize that over half the population can't even etch their name).

Pakistani Journalists don't write with a passion for the truth or some mildly noble cause, they write for accolades, and a fleeting sense of self worth; one headline at a time, byline by byline. As if a newspaper article would catapult them onto the national stage and shower them with prestige. Evidently it doesn't, at least not in the lofty social circles that they expected it to (they want fame & fortune like everyone else).

Every journalistic rant is laced with enough generic platitudes to send an elephant into a coma and begging for an enema, or at least therapy. Journalists brandish unspecific ideas, abstract concepts and ridiculous prose as if they are Paul Coelho. They are not. they are scribes, and there is nothing wrong about that, but for my morning news, I'd love a little clarity.

The 9th time I read 'betterment for our country', 'morality', 'cultural values', 'Islamic ideals', 'democratic ideals' and 'not our culture', I stop caring what else the writer has written. Because he has no clue what he's talking about. Or at the very least can't convey his thoughts in an effective enough manner that an English educated Foreign graduate like myself can't fathom what the hell he's talking about.It's a waste of my mental acumen to concern myself with what he may or may not mean.

Most journalists have their own little (or large) pet cause or NGO that they support and strive very hard to make them relevant (sometimes for an additional commission). They feel that their patronage is the most important part of the organization, never mind the hard work actually done by the NGO's foot soldiers.  

Journalists feel that it's their God given right to bash the government over any and everything. The default crux of anything printed somehow revolves around the government's inefficiency. I understand, Public Sector enterprises cost the government (give or take) almost $3 billion dollars in bailouts last year. But which private (preferably foreign) company would want to buy a bloated, unprofitable enterprise? PIA has negative equity. Which in layman terms means you have to pay someone else to take it over.

On the flip side, does anyone really want mass unemployment? because if the Government did make such a move, the media would be loaded with stories of how the government was 'ending the livelihoods' of so many people and 'destroying' their lives whilst the politicians load up on corruption. It's a perpetual blame game in which journalist can sit back and criticize without any actual value creation; though some esteemed journalistic icons have expressed how by criticizing and holding the government accountable they were infact 'saving the nation (usually from some form of far-fetched conspiracy)'. Basking in hindsight journalism is about as useful as completing a marathon on a broken foot. You can complain about it, but shouldn't you have rested the foot instead of navigating the rest of life with a limp. Pro-active versus Reactive.

Because Obviously it's okay to kill anyone other than a Journalist

"More things in politics happen by accident or exhaustion than happen by conspiracy."
Jeff Greenfield
Everything is a conspiracy with a delectable combination of the government, various political parties, United States, NGO's, IMF, Indian secret intelligence (RAW), the army and the ISI (Pakistan's version of the CIA). As much fun as drawing room conspiracy theories are to discuss. They really ought to stay away from News Papers. News Papers should have a grounding in Facts. Unless it's the funnies section; I love the funnies section...till the publishers shortened it to expand their pulpit space.

Maybe it's an inherent part of our 'culture' to blame anyone in a position of authority stemming from a 'colonial mind-set' but eventually we need to stop making excuses and own the government that we have. Cut them some slack when deserved and bash them when they do mess up gloriously.

Call me an elitist demanding snob, but if I'm going to devote the 50 odd seconds or so of my day perusing some poorly spell checked piece I demand that it not only be properly written but have some actual actionable result. Bemoaning the lack of government involvement is a cop out.

I did ask myself if I wanted to be the man that changed that? And the truth is that I lacked the conviction too. Everything I wrote would either be edited, dumbed down or rephrased in such a way that the authors style was scrubbed from the piece and the editors meek voice reigned supreme. Personally, I also hate it when people edit my work. Hence the bloggery with all of my mistakes is still my preferred outlet. 

I still write more than a few satire pieces and general free lance articles for Dawn, Pakistan's largest English Daily Newspaper, but I write primarily as a mental release. I'm selfish in that I write to amuse myself (and possibly a few others) and enjoy the perks of being published (of which there are none that I actually care about).

To be fair there are some Journalists that I have a massive respect for, but I had and still have no desire to be in their place; though there are pleasures to be had as the Saint in the land of Sinners. Just not for me.

* Thanks Alec


Anonymous said...

'Self-important, overly clever, under talented individuals that seemed to be put on this earth to aggravate my early morning happiness', seems to me to describe bankers ;)! Oh, and if I'm to be your editor in your forthcoming career as a journalist it's 'who' not 'that'! Look, bright boy, you seem to know what's wrong with journalists and journalism (although, of course, you being you, you exaggerate for effect), so your whole thesis becomes a pile of horse shit because obviously you wouldn't have been like the practioners you describe but would have been brave and relentless in the pursuit of truth. I can visualise you now, the light of righteous indignation burning in your eyes, the sword of justice, and the pen of truth in your hands, laying waste to the corrupt politicians, the incompetent generals, the venal officials, and the explotaitive capitalists. Can't you see it Murtaza? It's you. You do it here, why not do it to a wider world audience? Love, Alec xx

Alpha Za said...

@ Alec: Thanks for the comment and the correction. I can see how bankers can aggravate one in the morning if they have an outstanding loan of some sort.

If I did become a journalist, I'd eventually become like them; which is the point I'm trying to make. You are the average of the 5 people you hang out with the most.

What I do here is therapy. Blissful, incoherent self therapy.

Anonymous said...

That makes me a girl! That's probably right. Don't tell anyone, especially yourself, but I think you're quite good. Love, Alec xx

Alpha Za said...

@ Alec: Haha, thanks. I think that you are pretty much Alec Lindsay, whoever you choose that person to be.

Ghausia said...

Bah I say, baaahhh.

Most journalists are a bunch of elitist fucks. I hate them. They pretend to be so nice and sweet and good etc. but they're a bunch of assholes in the end that treat everyone like shit because they don't live in DHA, they didn't go to an expensive school, they didn't study in an American university, their father isn't so and so, their uncle isn't besties with the president, etc.

And most newspapers do tend to be assholes. The News for example. Dawn's shoddy article on Pakistan's first Pride being titled as a homosexual party, as if it was some kind of porny sex party. ET is declining in the excellent quality it once had and moving towards yellow journalism.

But. BUT. There are still lots of genuinely good journalists out there. Nice, kind-hearted people that truly do care about the country. As for your tales of corruption etc. I think you're wrong there. I used to think the same as well, but now that I'm in some contact with journalists, I realize that it isn't a conspiracy theory, its the reality.

I wish you'd have been a journalist. I'd work in whichever newspaper you work in and we could sit and mock people and check out hot chicks and drool over pics of Katrina. :D