In journalism you are the least important news

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(November 15, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Nobody gives a monkey’s arse whether you were educated at Oxbridge or a product of Madya Maha Vidyalaya , courtesy of free education late Education Minister C.W.W. Kannangara espoused. What contributors writing to news media should be concerned is, that their message gets across to the wider readership. This is the name of the game when it comes to enlightening the public or keeping them informed, educated and entertained.
It is not that Noam Chomksy, internationally reputed journalists at Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, NY Times, or any of those at other broadsheets, cannot indulge in name dropping of their mentors or luminaries in prestigious institutions where they received their degrees. But they understood that academic parlance in ivory towers do not sit well with the masses when it comes to conveying their opinions or news.
Now that print media is in competition with the electronic media or in effect lagging behind it and websites provide instant gratification for those who are news hungry, it would be futile to cite Gramsci or Sophocles and go into lengthy discourse of dissertations offered for PhD theses.
While seasoned journalists have mastered the art of writing to the point , academics and other non-journalists still write to news websites in lengthy paragraphs and talk about their own chosen fields whether the readership likes them or not.
Nobody is interested in your academic achievements. In news , the readership wants currency, newsworthiness and to some extent sensationalism. And they certainly do not need lectures on morality, religious education or their own perceived political beliefs.
Most of all citing sources when making statements and authentic and approved statistics to back up their stories.
Names make news and not exactly your own name. For example, the flavour of the day is Wikileaks in Sri Lankan context. Julian Assange, Patricia Butenis, President, Gotabhaya and Rizana Rafeek, the Sri Lankan housemaid charged with the murder of a child in Saudi Arabia are news. Also news is war crimes investigation, the Expropriation Bill recently passed through parliament with undue haste, post war resettlement of refugees, student and trade union uprising and such like.
It is a feather in the cap of those websites including Sri Lanka Guardian that the government was agitated enough to block them locally. And if these websites were hitherto largely ignored by the international media watchdogs now they are brought into prominence thanks to the government.
And they did not hire expensive advertising firms such as Saatchi & Saatchi or Ogilvys to popularise their websites. Readers lose interest after the first paragraph and if paragraphs are lengthy they move on.
Sock it to them when you start a story, the late veteran journalist Ivor Milheusen at Lake House used to say. This ploy is used by shock jocks on radio. Unlike print, the electronic media has a far shorter shelf life. Once it aired it is soon evaporated unlike print. And even print has a maximum of 48 hours on the shelf.
Then why do we waste precious space talking about ourselves or our own academic experience. Journalists or those who aspire to write to news websites should shed their own ego-centric notions and narcissistic tendencies and instead focus on what readers want.
There was a sub-editor at Weekend who when I wrote, `The heart-lung machine at the General Hospital broke down’, transformed it into, `The cardio-pulmonary apparatus went into malfunction.’ For a newspaper that was selling for a measly ten rupees it is hardly unlikely the reader would rush to his Thesaurus to discern the meaning of the latter phrase. Then why do some do it?
When a foreign correspondent is reporting from Basra amidst bombings would it be wise to report that `US Tomohawk , introduced by General Dynamics in the ‘70’s as a medium- to long-range, low-altitude missile that could be launched from a surface platform hit military targets’?
Instead Orla Guerin of the BBC would simply say that x number of civilians were killed in a US air attack. What the world wants to know is the casualties and not the technicalities or capabilities of weapons. The latter is for Jane’s Defence Weekly and war experts.
So if you want readers to respond write news which are current, topical and with fresh inputs. Leave yourself and your own emotions out of your story and you will make it in journalism.
(The writer is Asia Pacific Journalism Fellow at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, California and a print journalist for 21 years. She can be reached at


Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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