It is incredible how the front page can make or ruin my day,” wrote Anupma Diddi. “I spent the whole of last Saturday in a state of anticipatory excitement because Kiran Wadhwa’s ‘I-Race’ article on the first page not only told me that science had once again done something for the betterment of plebeians like me but it also gave me a much-needed impetus to plan a day that would leave me full of vim and vigour.”
For those who did not read that article, the I-Race is an annual running race that the Indian Institutes of Technology began two years ago in which a participant judges his or her success against a unique yardstick, one generated by a formula based on the individual’s height, weight, gender and age.
So although someone might finish “first” in the conventional sense, they might not win if they do not fulfil their potential as determined by the formula. It took place a week ago.
“That article, however, made for a rare Saturday,” continued Diddi.
“On most other days, the front page is more like a harbinger of dismal news,” she said. “It is as though nothing good, cheerful, encouraging or invigorating seems to be happening in my beloved country. May I suggest that the front page always carry one big, in-your-face, cheerful news item to keep the likes of me humming for the rest of the day.”
I put her suggestion to HT-Mumbai’s deputy resident editor, Pravinchandran Nair, who had this to say: “We would be happy to carry daily on page one a news item that cheers the reader up. But given the world we live in, it is difficult to find such stories every day.”
I understand where the reader is coming from. But in an evolving consumer society in which relentless advertising and marketing seek to lull citizens into a false sense of well-being, worthwhile news should jolt readers out of their complacency.
Lord Northcliffe, a journalist-turned-publisher who transformed the British media business at the turn of the 20th century, defined news as something that “someone somewhere wants to suppress. All the rest is advertising.”
Yet we can make a distinction between public relations pieces masquerading as news and positive stories about individuals and institutions that do not seek the limelight.
“Hindustan Times makes a conscious effort to highlight positive initiatives by citizens across the country through various features, such as in its ‘Re-imagining India’ series,” said Nair. “Readers could help by writing to us if they know of interesting scientific or engineering breakthroughs or people power campaigns that deserve to be highlighted.”
Newspapers can also do with a dose of humour.
So let me leave you with what I think are some witty, pithy views about news.
Gossip vs News
To a philosopher all news...is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.
— Henry David Thoreau
Some of the best news stories start in gossip. Monica Lewinsky was gossip in the beginning. I had heard it months before I printed it.
— Matt Drudge
Literature vs News
News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read. And it’s only news until he’s read it. After that it’s dead.
— Evelyn Waugh
Literature is news that stays news. — Ezra Pound
Journalism consists largely in saying ‘Lord James is dead’ to people who never knew Lord James was alive.
— G.K. Chesterton
Never believe anything unless it has been officially denied.
— Claud Cockburn