When speaking of journalism, one can always find the most lucrative of definitions and imagine a field that is dynamic and purposeful with a degree of impact. Many students pursuing journalism degree visualize public good and the driving motive behind such an ambition is the media landscape of Pakistan. Journalists are not only widely recognized here but also hold varying degrees of influence.
Careers in journalism often begin with high hopes and great enthusiasm. This lingers until one is exposed to ‘event reporting.’ The travails of journalism in emerge accrue from an overt reliance on event reporting, as opposed to investigative reporting. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the northwest province of Pakistan, is particularly prone to this peculiar trait of journalism in the country. I have had my own share of event reporting, thus sharing it.
After returning from London and joining news channel Geo English I thought my passion will grow tenfold and my due debt to society will be settled with style. Well, initially it went well. I covered militancy in Swat Valley and quickly became one of the prominent young journalists reporting from the then conflict zone.
In my early days I interviewed Malala Yousafzai, the global icon today of education activism but who back then was an even younger unknown, and also invited her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, to one of my talk shows where we highlighted the serious threats to girls’ schools by the Taliban. The primary focus of our program was conflict but I was given a degree of independence by my Bureau to choose other themes to highlight. I thus went on to cover issues related to education for girls, the psychological effects of conflict and militancy, the travails of musicians and dancers targeted for violent censorship by the militants in the valley and popular aspirations of peace in a violent region.
In short, the stories we worked on had both artistic and humanistic touches. It is not easy to find colors in a bleak scenario but we attempted it nonetheless and we believed we could make a difference. We brought the different dimensions of violence and terrorism to limelight, rather than sufficing, as most do today, on ‘statement journalism’ by confining ourselves to running statements from military public relations wing ISPR or Mullah Fazlullah, who is current chief of Tehrik Taliban Pakistan but who back then was the ‘local Taliban leader’ of Swat.
Our spirits were high and it seemed the sky was the limit for me in terms of professional journalism before I could soar we were grounded as the English TV channel was scrapped for commercial reasons by its parent Jang Media Group. With few other alternatives in the region for journalism, the demons of working for Urdu Press began to emerge for me – I was not schooled in typing Urdu text in its ‘in-page’ software. With time I learned to do it, became fluent in speaking and reporting and on several occasion came live and exclusive the then one of Pakistan most well-known and followed current affairs talk show ‘Aaj Kamran Khan Kay Sath’ hosted by Kamran Khan on Geo Urdu News and also an equally popular talk show ‘Capital Talk’ hosted by Hamid Mir.
The change in medium of language of reporting, however, resulted in a change of priorities in reporting themes. Moreover, the competitive environment forced us to ensure we did not miss out on a single ticker. From ‘quality journalism’ we switched to ‘quantity journalism.’ The ‘breaking news’ culture snared us and always had us on our toes and caused immense psychological pressure – we were always thinking what if our rival TV channels Express TV or Dunya TV broke any news before us. This is not a good position to be in for a journalist.
Since 2008, a wave of suicide bomb blasts followed by Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and some of the worst flooding in the country’s history made us work day and night. Such was the intensity of events that channels could not spare journalists to cover feature stories or bring in-depth reports. Frustrations piled up when every single day we had to cover a press conference of then Information Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mian Iftikhar Hussain. He was prolific and soon became the face of news media in the province.
In short, my job shifted from creative journalism to event reporting. The plight of IDPs, the flood flows and what Hussain said and did became my ‘beat’. During the two months the floods raged, I covered Hussain’s press at least three dozen times. There came a moment when I could easily predict what news tickers would emerge from the mouth of the information minister, and they did! I felt less like a journalist and more a spokesman of his ruling Awami National Party.
Such was the pessimism in certain news bureaus around event reporting that there came to currency a strong conviction that we Pakhtuns working in conflict zones do not have the capacity to conduct talk shows for analysis or produce short documentaries, while the only thing the Assignment Desk prayed and hoped was for a new conflict or event centered on tragedy so that even more breaking news tickers could be generated. This made me sick. I responded to this by working hard to generate creative stories around monotonous event-based reporting. Some of these stories had big impact and helped citizens in some way but with the passage of time I felt I neither had time nor luxury to work on issues that could have produced a bigger impact.
Event reporting became my curse and Hussain was the ‘news demon’ that haunted my journalistic spirits. It was, of course, not his fault but my management’s, which lost some sense in understanding individual abilities. Eventually I quit to make a fresh career as a journalism teacher.
The passion has not died over the intervening period as I still undertake freelance journalism assignments and train journalists from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who work for television. But I can see it clearly that there will not be many of them who will continue if their potential are not nurtured and utilized by our senior pros. News directors, senior producers, bureau chiefs and assignment editors need to realize that all reporters and journalists are not of the same breed and talent and that each individual cannot be molded the same way.
It seems that for the moment there is just a single recipe with news management of our media in shaping journalists of today. So a little bit of encouragement and understanding the true potentials of an Individual will motivate the emerging journalists and produce tomorrow’s star journalists. Only they can improve the current rather poor standards of journalism.
The author is a journalism teacher in a public sector university and a freelance journalist. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org