4 April 2006
In defense of my job
Features reporting is not the hectic fast-paced journalism you'll see on television. As a features journo, I can, more often than not, take my time about things. I don't have to charge up to some brandishing a dictaphone, because the people I meet want to talk to the media and if I miss something, they'll repeat it, so I can take notes in my little notebook. I can sit down once I've gotten my quotes, perhaps get something to eat or drink. When I'm interviewing someone, I can chat for a good couple of hours while they give me information and I get coffee. Hell, the longer I talk to them, the better my interview is.
Okay, so it may not be reporting just after the tsunami, with homeless people and the high stress of dealing with a population that has lost everything. It's not war reporting either, when you know your own life is in danger as well. It's not political reporting, figuring out the coups and the shifts of day-to-day politics, or being present at a George Bush press con. That's what my job is NOT. What it is is entertainment. I entertain. Think of a newspaper office like a kings court, beginning with the most important stuff, then filtering in the inside pages news about the citizens, then finally the news about the immediate kingdom, what's going on there and then there is us, the features reporter, with our authority to play around with words--to make our copies look fabulous, to have good-looking well laid out pages with fancy punny headlines. We're the ones who tell you whether you should be wearing brocade this season, or whether that new restaurant is a good place to eat, or what the latest gossip is with that movie star and her on-again off-again boyfriend. Since we're still talking metaphors, think of us as the popular girls (or boys, but I really haven't met that many male features journalists. It seems to be a predominantly female domain) in a classroom, the ones who never ran, but strolled gently, the ones who weren't the prefects or anything, but always looked good and spoke well. We weren't the prefects, but we were the dramatic society, and when someone important visited, we were the ones who did the flower arrangements and hung the fancy posters.
I happen to enjoy my job. Oh sure, every now and then I have pangs about how I'm not doing anything meaningful and how the world will not collapse if no one knows that Aamir Khan was in town or whatever, but for the most part I enjoy it. What's not to like? I'm generally a people person, so interviews and profiles are my strong point, as opposed to a more people quote story. When I'm doing a one-on-one, I usually meet them at a coffee shop, or sometimes, in their homes, where we sit and I begin the careful process of being their new best friend. It's an art, really, when you can make the person sitting with you so comfortable, they forget to say, "Off the record" as they tell you everything and you smile, occasionally scribble and then leave, armed with a perfect story.
Anyway, the point is, that a lot of people, especially the ones in the media field themselves, give us condescending smiles when they learn what we do. Sometimes, us, the people in my department are called on to file the story the same day as the event, so we come into office around tennish, by which time most of the people in our department have gone home, but there's still bustling activity as the news reporters file their day's work. That's a moment that always makes me pause as I enter the room. The only noise comes from the clicking of several fingers on several keyboards, and no one looks up as I enter, sidle to my computer and file my story quickly, before either going home to Small or joining friends on a night out. It's not life changing, the event that I'm reporting, but its an event nonetheless. I may not be talking about "Three dead in a bus accident near Jamshedpur" but I will be speaking of a book launch perhaps, who was there and what they did and said, which, c'mon is waaaaaaay more interesting than the bus accident, not that I'm trivialising that either, before you jump down my throat!
Comments like "Oh you're like that chick in Page 3" is something I have taken into my stride by now. I've been a journalist for, oh, going on three years now. And I've met new people, and sometimes the same people, for those three years. I can't tell you about onion prices and the stock market, but I can tell you who those people are, sitting at the next table, being photographed. And what their story is. Chances are, I can also introduce you to them, tell you a little bit about their lives, what they did to be photographed in the first place and even fish out their cellphone numbers, if you needed them. I can tell you what wine goes with what food, where the newest nightclub is and what the cover charges there are, what advance the writer of that book you're looking at got and how it's doing in the market and all sorts of information like that. Which is still information. No mean feat that, eh?