Typecast

It was probably a couple of months ago that Firstpost.com, a news website, came up with a TV advertisement. This was unusual. For one, few Indian companies, particularly those in the media business, invest money to cement their online presence. Even if they are savvy enough to not consider it a threat to their circulation figures, to sink the kind of money one would have to in order to create an advertisement and book spots on various channels is far more elaborate and expensive than most budgets apportion for the web. Also, the ad was surprisingly snappy and had a good tagline: “You put the planet through so much, just so you can read the news one day late.”

Now Firstpost.com has come out with a second video, which pretends to be an advertisement but is actually the website’s attempt at being a career counsellor to journalists. That’s the only explanation I have for the concept, which shows you a man living the life of a journalist. This means typing on a typewriter — because, of course, when it comes to the actual writing, all of us go retro since that’s so much more hipster than the computer- and laptop-infested present — wearing a tie and jacket, walking around in slow-mo, and directing a barely-banked smoulder at the camera. Obviously, all this is shot in moody black and white (move over, Henri Cartier Bresson). Along with the visuals is a voiceover that supplies the listener with a running commentary of said journalist’s actions. A sample:

“You are the journalist
Walking miles, capturing smiles.
No news is too small
No task too big.
Come local goons or extremist clans,
You are the man.
With your Remington firing away on sheets of paper,
Backspace, rephrase and coffee-machine capers.
Surrounded by books, you rule midnight.
That’s right, you are the man.”

I’d be offended by how Firstpost.com — which, incidentally, has women in senior editorial positions — seems to believe a journalist is “the man” if it wasn’t for the job description in rhyme. This avatar of the journalist I’m happy to leave in the male corner. Let them go right ahead and walk miles and capture smiles, stand next to Venetian blinds, drink coffee and bang away at Remingtons.

For the life of me, I can’t fathom to whom this ad is targeted. Which random newswatcher will be driven to go to a website whose advert exhorts journalists to work for a news website rather than a news publication? Did Firstpost.com actually brainstorm and come to the conclusion that the segment of Indian society they need to target is the one comprising journalists? (Because that’s the demographic that’s going to make the website go kah-ching!) And really, if you’re targeting journalists, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have slightly cleverer words than a nursery rhyme-worthy description of journalism ? Also, setting aside the fact that we are motley and far-from-homogenous bunch, how does telling newspaper and magazine journalists that they’re working for anachronistic organisations drive up Firstpost.com’s traffic? Or is this actually a recruitment video?

It’s not the lack of realism that bothers me. Let’s rephrase that, it bothers me less than how lame these efforts are at making journalism sexy. David Carr and A.O. Scott of The New York Times had this fabulous little conversation about the depiction of reporters and the news media in The Newsroom, a new series by Aaron Sorkin. Near the end, Carr points out that the bulk of journalism is boring and quotidian, like a collection of chores that only have relevance when not seen individually. (He’s far more articulate than I am and he’s hilarious so really, you should watch that video.) I completely agree with Carr, which is why I would love to see a romanticised fantasy of journalists and journalism that makes our world look cool and compelling. A couple of months ago a journalist friend wrote to me, “Days, sometimes weeks, go by, and I do nothing. Nothing. Not even pretend to be busy. Btw, have you got the Voodoo Friends app? Good fun.” This is not the reality that we need to see on tv. Not only because it makes journalists look a little more foolish than we actually are, but because it’s boring. So yes, go right ahead and fantasise. My issue is with how stupid these damn fantasies are. A stubble, a suit and a Remington typewriter — really? That’s the best you could do? And then there’s Sorkin, whose notion of a brilliant news programme producer is a woman who can’t send emails, writes about her break-up with her ex-boyfriend in an email that’s sent out to everyone in the company, puts up the worst news segment ever and then turns around and angrily gives her boss an ultimatum. Where is The Newsroom set, in Sweet Valley High?

I’m going to go and re-watch The Hour and pretend I’m Lix Storm.