Indrajit Hazra may be a journalist by profession, but his book The Bioscope Man confirms what others have suspected for long - that he needs a day job. Currently a Consultant Editor of Hindustan Times, he writes the fortnightly music column Rock'n'Roll Circus and the sometimes satirical, sometimes not satirical at all Sunday column Red Herring. When no one's looking, he writes in other publications too.
Election results in America! It can be quite a grand affair here in India too, especially if you were up to scan all the papers the next day considering the television folks had done their bit and moved on to other pressing matters such as the rumble in the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Well, America’s still the most powerful nation in the world and it’s always a spectacle to follow and watch how Americans go about their business of voting. But it’s also a treat for journalists in India to see how “this coverage thing is done” by their counterparts in the US. The sandblasting operations in all the national English dailies are really a contest to see who comes closest to being “American” in this unique media coverage.
The Hindu and The Times of India ran their headlines with the common theme of the elections throwing up a “Divided States of America”. I was so hoping that the latter would go the whole hog and call itself The Times of America for one day to the squeals of delight and horror of other journos (the delight being that of getting to slag off the TOI once again in their evening daaru sessions) which they seem to feed off. But instead, TOI devoted half their front page to the victory of Barack Obama and four pages of “Obamagain” with snips and bobs and graphics and pictures forming the meat of the jamboree. Hindustan Times, with a delightful photo by AFP’s Robyn Beck of Michelle Obama hugging her hubby, went right down below the fold, along with a helpful graphic under the “Barack is back four more” package with two full US presidential elections pages inside that didn’t have much perspective or agenda except to cover two pages.
The Hindu, despite having an American as its editor (or perhaps because of it) had more restrained coverage. Although it did run a “cute” (PTI?) copy about how Obama would consider allowing his two daughters to date if they continued to live in the White House and how having one pet dog was “probably enough” for now. Along with a rewritten but less well-displayed version of the same “agencies” story, TOI’s clip on the “First Daughters” -“Elder Obama girl Malia, now a tall 14-year-old, is a varsity tennis player. She’s allowed a cellphone. Sasha, 11, can chat in Mandarin. They’re seldom heard, although they’ve appeared non-stop in the campaign’s Great American Family photos. Other prez kids had a rougher time. Chelsea (Bill Clinton’s daughter) suffered teasing on her frizzy hair and freckles.”- wasn’t quite “cho chweet” as the dog’n’dating report (that, incidentally, made it as a microscopic clip in HT).
The impression that readers were terribly keen to read every aspect of Obama’s electoral victory was palpable, even to those who wondered whether the US president’s passing of the Dodd-Frank law in his first term was something that they should be interested in knowing more about or not. As content providers-arrangers, the media in India is notoriously uninterested in things happening beyond their backyard. For the “serious” press, Syria and other frowning matters are trotted out as “quota” coverage. But the US elections provide the opportunity to trot out a super-big deal – a mix of seriousness (“American elections, yaar!”) and Oscar-style international glitz.
For one day, the Indian media was super-interested in things beyond Gadkari, Kejriwal and Sachin. For one day, we – both news suppliers and consumers -had the ticket to being non-dehatis.
But one reason I think that all publications pull out all the stops to run US election results coverage is because an overwhelming majority of the content comes ready-made. Whether it’s New York Times or Reuters, news reports or opinion pieces or photographs and graphics, essentially the media is on full-blown “import” mode. The real job – the only job – becomes that of packaging and presentation.
Barring the copies dealing with “What this means for India” and “What this means for Pakistan”, even the reports from Washington-New York-Chicago correspondents of all the papers are essentially about showcasing for readers the fact that the publication or the television channel has someone, or has sent someone, to America. The content, frankly, remains pretty much what NYT-Reuters etc have shipped out anyway.
So, from the supply side of things, US election coverage in Indian publications is about prowess of the news desk and design team. No such happy shortcuts available when India goes to general elections.
From the consumer side of things, it’s one day when the reader can pretend to be part of the world out there, interested and effected by the biggest event in the world’s most powerful country.
I wonder how the Indian media, with all its new-found interest in what’s going on in the second most powerful country in the world, will be covering the handover of presidency from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping during the far less glitzy, no tickertape-and-hugs National Congress of the Communist Party of China. There won’t be as much of the off-the-rack reports and photographs and graphics, beyond the ones from NYT-Reuters-AP etc, to cut-and-paste.
Which, I have a feeling, would make the Indian coverage of the change in the Chinese leadership – equal to, if not more important for India as the US elections – a less rambunctious, colourful, overriding and devoted affair.
Image Source [http://www.flickr.com/photos/beglen/3029405063/sizes/m/]