CHENNAI: According to social media, Chennai’s volunteers salvaged the city, that sank due to administrative mismanagement. That’s what the crowd would like us to believe. Taking selfies with relief materials and pictures of supplies being provided shouldn’t be considered ‘noble’, if we were to go by an accurate definition of the term.
While such self-promotion and publicity mongering can be annoying, these practices which you will get to know of — common knowledge among journalists — can be nauseating. At a recent flood relief camp organised by the city police for widows and the elderly on ECR, this scribe was offered a ‘Cover’. For the uniformed, its a colloquial term for cash in an envelope.
The relief materials were provided by professors and students of an autonomous college in Royapettah. The man who offered me the cover, much to my shock, as I later learnt, has a PhD and is a head of a department in the college.
The offer, of course, was politely refused. The story came about without much mention of the college or its students.
Now, blaming the professor seems to be the easier option. But one also ought to accept the fact that few other scribes accepted the offer — mostly stringers for small publications and dailies. It is well known among the fraternity that stringers are not paid well, and that’s pretty much why they have the urge to ink their own deals for the ‘coverage’ they give to these ‘good samaritans.’ For some of them, reporting is only a part-time job and the more ways you find to multiply your earnings, the smarter you are. “Pozhaikka theryadha pullaya irukkiye pa,” is a common sneer at young scribes who refuse the offers.
While this is a hyper local example of paid journalism, big corporations have their own ways and find it easier to buy newspaper space. “What better time to market your company than during a disaster?” — am sure zealous MBA graduate must have beamed at the boardroom meeting...or some other place.
The idea was effectively carried out by a PR official worth his/her salt. Stories about restaurants shipping food items from the end of the world to Chennai, and radio taxi services providing boats for rescue are glaring examples.
Those who offer these ‘services’ will claim that our brethren started the practice and vice versa. This disgusting practice reminds me of the simple query that has no clear answer — “Which came first? The chicken or the egg?”