1 July 2008

Should you blame an Indian sub-editor who has not heard of Johann Bach?

A Goa-based group has pulled a fast one on three Indian newspapers, concocting a story about the arrest of a Nazi war criminal called Johann Bach. Reuters has a highly effective blog that has chronicled the fiasco.
Mercifully, I have heard of the Western composer Bach and even Nazi war criminals...but I am not particularly outraged by the goof-up. It is true that there is a new generation of journalists in which many lack historical knowledge. It is equally true that chief sub-editors and news editors of the old vintage are few and far between, thus reducing the cross-checking culture.
The Reuters blog rightly remarks that a Google search would have got an easy cross-check.
However, I do want to ask if Western reporters or subs have heard of Thyagaraja or Muthuswami Dikshitar, the leading Carnatic music composers or face frequent challenges on learning about 18th Century India when they do their day-job.
The point I am trying to make it is that Indian journalists working in the English language media have to carry an enormous amount of general knowledge on both the Western world and India to make things work.
Frankly, there is neither sufficient incentive nor enough facilities or mentoring available for them to do this seriously.
A call centre agent with a fake American accent makes more money at the age of 20 than a master's degree-holding print journalist in a leading newspaper at the entry level. Unemployment is not exactly a problem for fluent English speakers in India, and the old charms of smooth writing or idealism is no longer drawing enough people into Indian newspapers (the better ones with similar talent go for advertising, television or even consulting jobs!).
You gotta pay and train for the right talent. I don't see that happening.

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