BENGALURU: There won’t be any newspapers in 20 years,” a lecturer thundered as I joined my journalism course a decade ago. While taking notes on the first day of my life as an aspiring journalist, I remember questioning my life choices. As it turns out, the data was from a Western perspective. According to a report in this paper in 2019, more than 400 million people read a newspaper every day. Sales of magazines have also risen steadily. In fact, 74 of the largest sold newspapers in the world are from Asia.
But the genesis of my fascination with newspapers lies in my childhood. My father would begin his day by reading an Odia newspaper. At my cousins’ place, I’d find newspapers in Telugu and Bengali – each of them with different designs, graphics and pictures. In my 5th standard, I requested for an English newspaper – a request surprisingly accepted in a home where asking for Chocolate Horlicks was viewed as an indulgence! Holding the newspaper open, I felt like an adult ready to deal with life’s problems.
I remember the excitement of seeing my name in a newspaper for the first time. The actor I was to interview was extremely polite, and even helped with my questions after seeing me tense. When I excitedly narrated this to my editor, she lambasted me for letting him alter the questions. “You’re a journalist,” she said, “Not paparazzi.”
It was the first lesson in journalism that made sense to me. As the years rolled on, digital and social media consumption became the norm. As I made the shift to digital consumption of news, I noticed the complete lack of hierarchy in news items. A report by WHO would be followed by an article about an actress’ dog gallivanting with an actor’s cat. Twitter conversations are peddled like news stories; trolls are given legitimacy and a national platform.
Thankfully, newspapers do not allow for emotional, knee-jerk reactions. If one does feel the urge to respond, one must calmly collect one’s thoughts and write a letter to the editor. If one needed further convincing about the role of newspapers in our country, one merely needs to look back to the last year. As the world reeled under a global pandemic, our TV channels resorted to peddling communal news to stoke religious fires. As cases in India grew, our channels were baying for the blood of an actress.
The top news journalists of the country were reading out private WhatsApp chats and dissecting their contents. Of course, I wasn’t immune to it all. I fell for the sensationalism, and even discussed various theories of what could have transpired. And then one day, I decided I had had enough, and subscribed to a newspaper.
The newspaper sits outside my door every morning, along with two packets of milk. For someone blessed with the discipline of a sloth, the morning paper adds a sliver of routine to my bedraggled life. As I sip my coffee, I take off on a mini-tour around the world, where articles are perfectly worded and the facts in them thoroughly verified.
If you’re reading this column in a newspaper, dear reader, I must congratulate you on your decision. If you’re reading a digital version, may I recommend subscribing to a newspaper. In the 21st century, newspapers do not merely provide news, but also a little sanity in the age of misinformation. The fourth estate is thriving; one merely needs to reach out for it.