What does the news have in common with fish, apart from the fact that both stink at times? In the final years of the last millennium, our journalism teacher used to tell us from his moth-eaten notes that yesterday’s newspaper was good enough only for wrapping fish. But that’s not the comparison I’m aiming at.
Nor do I want to highlight that some newshounds drink like a fish, preferably when the pegs are on the house. My point is that the big fish (read news) always eats up the small one. And the biggie, in turn, is gobbled up by the bigger one.
Till around 9pm on January 17, ‘Cong King Kong’ Rahul Gandhi was ruling the roost as the Page-1 lead of soon-to-be-printed newspapers and the top story of news channels, while tributes to legendary actress Suchitra Sen were also figuring prominently. It needed nothing less than an 8-on-the-Richter-scale earthquake to dislodge the Gandhi scion, who had given a roaring speech at the AICC session that day. What actually happened wasn’t a quake, but it was sensational enough to relegate Rahul to the number 2 position.
The shocking death of union minister Shashi Tharoor’s wife Sunanda Pushkar instantly grabbed the headlines. Even the ethereal Suchitra’s demise was reduced to a mere footnote.
This fish-eat-fish business makes the profession of journalism exciting for some, frustrating for others. For better or worse, no place in the world is more connected to the world than the news room (read madhouse). From a bloody gunbattle in far-off Mali to the murder of a neighbourhood mali, everything reaches here in no time. But even the most meticulous planning comes to nought when something earth-shaking happens.
Back in 2001, September 11 to be precise, I went to work with a terrible hangover after my 9-to-5 birthday celebrations (that was 9pm to 5am). With my heavy head, I was praying that the evening in the news room would pass off peacefully and I wouldn’t have to stretch myself. However, a fellow named Osama bin Laden had other ideas. When an overexcited colleague broke the NEWS, I bitterly knew that we had a long night ahead of us in the office.
My shift head was also not pleased, but he had other reasons: one, his ignorance had been exposed as he had no clue where on earth was this damn World Trade Centre; and two, his Page-1 master plan had collapsed like the Twin Towers. Nearly 10 hours later, we put the final edition to bed, around 4am. Despite being dead-tired, I felt lucky to have been part of all the ‘action’, even though the real thing had happened thousands of kilometres away.
9/11 was a once-in-a-blue-moon catastrophe that crashed into our lap. Sometimes, we desk-bound journos keep waiting agonisingly with the bait, hoping to catch a whale of a news, but to no avail.
Recently, the never-say-die Nelson Mandela kept us on tenterhooks for several weeks before he finally gave up the ghost. That’s the tyranny (and mischief) of news. It happens when it happens, neither a minute early nor a minute late. It’s even more quirky than your boss. And you have no option but to tolerate its whims and fancies. Unless you have other fish to fry.