Dipped in Witriol
One wonders if this should be seen as good news or bad. A powerful conglomerate is threatening to open yet another institute of journalism in Delhi. It will add to the 25 or more already in existence in the national capital.
The promoters of the new outfit—a motley crew of former IB officials, failed journalists, the owner of a successful halwai shop in Chandini Chowk, and three ex-CIA operatives as consultants —have christened the new institution as the School For Sensationalism (SFS). Well, it is not known whether the inspiration for the name came from Richard Sheridian’s play of the 1770s, The School For Scandal, but given the profile of the gentlemen behind the new venture this is highly unlikely. However, they claim that the recent Indian Express scoop on the Army attempting to stage a coup and other such “imaginative stories” have given a new impetus and urgency to their project.
But that’s beside the point. One is told that the journalism course formulated by SFS will be unique in that students will be offered a six-month no-nonsense programme which will help them develop skills for cutting-edge reportage. Gordon Owen Pal, one of the CIA operatives and a consultant (he calls himself GO Pal or Gopal in India) puts things in perspective: “What we have is a realistic course where we have taken theIndian Express report (on the coup) as a benchmark. It is remarkable since very rarely is a story first envisaged in detail on the drawing board and then the reporters merely asked to write out the pre-determined script with their bylines. It’s like Bollywood or Hollywood which runs films according to the script however absurd it is.” According to Gopal the Indian Express has shown the nation the future of journalism, and at SFS the accent will be on such made-to-order stories.
Now, at this point, one must mention that Gopal is no ordinary ex-CIA operative. Having written a paper onReporting, Deviant Behaviour and Excessive Consumption of Arachis Hypogaea.(peanut) Butter (Malapuram Medical Journal, Vol XX/July 84) he was also the one who traced US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s ancestry to the village of Roda, 28 km from Faizalbad (now in Pakistan) and linked this fact to her love for kebabs. “Her great-great-great-great- great grandfather was Karamjit Singh Roda who later migrated to the US pretending to be an Irishmen with false papers fabricated in Rohtak. Curiously, when I confronted Hillary she swore me into silence. ‘Mr Pal, be a friend,’ she said, ‘Don’t breathe a word of this to the New York Times.’ With that she gave me a tie and a pair of socks (authenticated by the laundry guys at the White House) that her husband wore when he was Prez, as a gift. Naturally, I never made public my discovery and still wear those socks although I sold the silk tie to fund my gambling.”
I must confess that Gopal is an interesting raconteur with many stories to tell but one must leave his stock of tales for later. Meanwhile, he was also kind enough to part with details of the journalism programme drawn up for SFS which was truly mindboggling. Here are some revelations from the draft plan:
SCHOOL ON THE MOVE: SFS will have no campus. It shall operate out of public spaces—parks, malls and the like. This not only opens the mind to urban decay but also gives the students the chance to pluck flowers on the sly or shoplift in the times of CC TV. The first fortnight of the course in parks will also see the faculty on bicycles with the students running alongside them trying to write copy. This will drive home the point that new journalism is not about running around but sitting in the office, surfing the net and getting scoops and updates on twitter.
GETTING TO KNOW SOURCES: A very crucial aspect of the course. Here prospective journalists get familiar with the creature called Sources. Like the Greek God Apollo (not to be confused with the hospital chain), Sources is many people rolled into one. It has no gender and can be a he or a she. Also, since it’s singular or plural one can call it “them, others like them, many others who feel the same way and at a pinch can be sources close to any Minister or sources in any organisation or even in the Opposition.”
Invoking Sources requires mind control as well as imagination. Which is why at SFS much time will be devoted to meditation where one concentrates one’s energy and prays to the God of Sources for inspiration. And then—lo behold!—that creature appears! And then you simply win the battle for Page One.
(Incidentally, Sources almost made it to Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings but the Argentinean literary genius failed to see the import of this creature in our Brave News World).
MANUFACTURING EVIDENCE: SFS will provide its students a directory of those who specialise in generating genuine fake documents and fabricated audio tapes. They are also specialists in bribing people to make false statements. For example, in a trial run one of them got four bystanders to confess that they saw Rahul Gandhi wipe his hands on the kurta of a fellow guest at the Rajinder Dhaba where he had gone to eat sheekh kababs and mutton curry. The same gang of four gave a confessional statement that L.K. Advani goes on Sunday for a south Indian breakfast wearing a veshti (Tamilian style) accompanied by Nitin Gadkari wearing Bermudas and a T-Shirt emblazoned with the message “I’m a Nitin Gadkari look-alike.”
JOURNALISM IN THE AGE OF PAID NEWS: At SFS there are three streams of news which will find focus-- paid news, prayed news, and preyed news. The first deals with news where money is paid and the reporter merely rearranges words from A-Z in different patterns --which, by the way, is what writing is all about, from Joyce to Karan Johar -- tailor-made to say what the client wants. In the second, it’s someone pleading for coverage under trying circumstances where the paper dictates the payment per word. And in the last, paid news contracted to someone else is poached upon with competitive offers and calls for a puff job that pleases the client.
THE HUMAN FACE OF SFS: Finally, while training would-be journos, SFS has a human face too. Its promoters believe that those who go through their programme will achieve one thing for sure: they will slow down NASA’S effort s to produce robot journalists and editors for at least the next decade.
Two and a half cheers for that…