- On social media, follow those whose reading will enrich your interests.
- Take your work seriously. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
- Like life itself, honesty and humanity are non-negotiable for journalists.
When I started out, The most important lessons I learned from life: My father gave me two mantras: “Make your own sunshine” and “Be flexible. If you are too rigid, you’ll break.” Khushwant Singh, my first editor and forever mentor, added a third, not putting it in words but by example: Take your work seriously, don’t take yourself too seriously. These have pretty much been my professional lodestars.
How tough is it to write in a humorous way about serious issues: Tough enough. You have to know the facts and understand the nuances, then you have to figure out how to make all that stuff stand on its head. Also, you don’t have the luxury of just one area of specialisation, so you have to keep abreast with everything. This also gives you a wider selection of allusions and analogies, helping you to write a weightier piece. Trust me, there is always a serious subtext to humour. And humour is a subtle weapon—the stiletto, not the sledgehammer.
Does a good journalist mean somebody who breaks stories regularly? Not necessarily. There is much more. Even beat reporters should go beyond the here-and-now. Be aware of the trends, shifts, different perspectives. Develop an expertise, change the narrative, don’t lose sight of the little people, make a difference.
Is there a certain attitude that makes a person fit (or unfit) for the media? If you lack passion, you are dead on arrival. From this follows commitment, to stay the course and never take short cuts. Like life itself, honesty and a basic humanity are non-negotiable. If your fundamental motivation is the byline or your face on the screen, go become a movie star. But there is no magic password there either.
Do journalists read less now than in the days before Twitter? How do you feel about this? I wouldn’t generalise. And I wouldn’t knock Twitter. It’s not just the quick fix of 140 characters (and even this is going to expand). The sharing of links that social media enables is a huge value addition to your corpus. You just have to follow the right people, by which I don’t mean the media chatterati, but those whose own reading will enrich your areas of interest.