Bangalore media: Silly season is here

The media in Bangalore appears to be on loose ends in the absence of spoon-fed news stories generated by coalition politics. A recent newspaper report said journalists were finding hard news stories hard to come by under the governor’s rule. In the earlier regime, reporters on the state secretariat beat had  ‘the privilege of meeting ministers twice a day’ and many of them could walk into the office of senior officials, including chief secretary, on working days, ‘for (gathering) information on governance’..

The media report would have us believe that the open-door system adopted by ministers and officials generated a steady flow of news reports on ‘policy issues and development programmes’. Surely, no government can generate ‘policy’ stories for the media on a daily basis. My sense is that ministers fed the secretariat reporters self-serving statements and lofty welfare announcements. What is spoon-fed is usually spin and hype, rarely, hard news. And officials, generally more reliable than their political bosses, can’t be expected to part with anything more than what they would want media to know. Clever officials  know how to soft-soap even hard-boiled journalists with tea and small-talk.

In the current scheme of things the governor, heading the state administration, doesn’t need to make self-serving statements to the press. Nor is he looking for media mileage. No wonder, as the newspaper said, ‘the flow of information from the corridors of power has become a trickle’. It is, what they call in journalistic parlance, silly season. It is a period when media, starved of hard news stories, fills space with frivolous stories. 

Typical of a silly story of the season was this Page One report in a national daily, headlined – Metro derails business on M G Road. The report says ‘the controversial’ Metro Rail project has claimed its first casualty – business turnover in Bangalore’s most-sought-after shopping centre, M G Road. Nowhere in the 13 paragraphs that follow does the reader get an inkling of what is controversial about the Bangalore Metro project. My take is the Metro is a widely-welcomed infrastructure project that most people say should have been thought of years earlier. 

Describing M G Rd as a once throbbing commercial district, the newspaper report says the place now ‘resembles a graveyard’. I have never known of a graveyard-like place that has ‘frequent traffic jam’. In fact, the burden of the newspaper story is that shopkeepers on this busy road are losing business because of increased traffic and huge traffic problem since work on the Metro project got under way two months ago.

A shop-owner is quoted as saying the Nov.-Dec. is his peak season when he did roaring business and made considerable profits. Not so this time – “the (ongoing) work on the Metro Rail has ruined small businesses”. The shopowner talks of having to downsize his sales staff. Sales supervisor in a handlooms outlet complained that traders and employees were having to park their vehicles on other roads and walk to work. Some other trader spoke of the dust-raising construction activity.

Admittedly, noise, dust and traffic dislocation are inevitable when you take up a project of the scale of Metro rail and such elements are factored in when they take up the project. It is not as if they don’t have traffic chaoes elsewhere in the city. If this is a newspaper story at all, it is not very newsy one. It is a ‘lazy’ story, with which those of us in the media are only too familiar. All it takes to produce such story is a cell phone and a few numbers, of shop-owners on M G Rd. As a newspaper reporter once I have been there; done that. Such story-on-demand are produced in response to a farmaish by a hard-pressed news editor who needs to fill a hole in a news page. 

A seasoned reporter would have padded out the story, with a few quotes from a worker on the construction site, a Metro rail official, and some shoppers. You need not look for them any farther than your office water cooler. And one other thing,  I would have also thrown in an out-of-box suggestion. Why not make that stretch of M G Rd. a pedestrian zone; and persuade the army to allow parking on the parade ground adjacent to M G Rd. ? It is bound to generate a couple of letters to editor.      


7 Responses

  1. Thanks for sending the link, Krishnan. It was nice to see someone make a reference to “silly season” on a blog.

    Today with multiple sources of information it’s hard for a journalist to find news item that would really be “new and interesting” to the reader. Silly season is not just about a few months in a year, but on Sundays as well, besides the odd holidays we get when nothing seems to be happening around. And any “newsy event” — good or bad — is so eagerly welcomed as a big relif on such days!

    Silly season or not, always the challenge for journalists is to give well-rounded news capsules to audiences that put news events in perspective; the challenge is also in overcoming the limitations in achieving this objective.

  2. I am not sure that the news item that you draw attention to is an example what a silly season can produce. Silly season in Europe is in the months of July and August when almost every one including the journalists and politicians take their summer break and a chain of non-news items become fodders for the newsmedia. A news item that is so much blow up in this silly season usually has a hollow core and nothing of substance can be ferreted from it.

    The Karnataka state administration as I hear from a distance is taken over by the governor and his advisers, and very little leaks from them which can be padded up as a news story. It is not that there are no news per se in the hollowed corridors of governor mansion and civil servants as the governor as any one knows that an administration of this complexity is a veritable news source. But the adminstrators it appears have simply ‘corked the bottle ‘ tight. This stae of play according to the definition I am familiar with does not tantamount to a silly season. The news item you refer to
    does not fall in the class of news in a silly season as there is a core of truth and concern in it. It appears that it is badly researched and presented. Any part of a city which is at the receiving end of earth movers and diggers has the potential to drive businesses away from it. I suggest those responsible for the Metro
    rail works should carefully study how Berlin handled its large development plans or London handled the extension of the high speeed track of the Eurostar( the high speed train which connects London to to Paris and Brussels through the under-the sea channel tunnel.

  3. Aboutthe metro for Bangalore. I doubt whether the metro rail system alone will help to provide solution to transport woes. Bangalore arguably is a city that has the highest concentration of government offices and industry of all sorts. Its population is growing at a rate that is not experienced any city in the world. It is said population-wise India is adding one Australia every year. One can extend this argument to Bangalore to say that it is adding a Sydney
    probably every 8-10 years and some say even every 5 years. The real solution if a dampner is not put on poulation explosion is to relocate the government offices and more importantly the IT sweatshops to other non-urban parts of the state, and invest resources to provide high speed rail links to connect them to Bangalore. Years ago, the late Homi Bhaba criticised the industrial policy of Nehru government for putting such empahsis on building steel plants and not planning for adequate investment in railways and
    telecommunication systems. There were reports that Kengal Hanumanthiah (an enthusiast for the expansion of Bangalore. Shifting the AIR studio to Bangalore was an example)was adivised to provide facilities to locate the major central industries that were at the planning stage away from Bangalore. Kengal was not the softie who could be deterred from expanding Bangalore!

  4. That was a great insight into the journalist’s trade. You’re not allowed to have big blank spaces in the paper.

    This reminds me of B-school. We had to periodically make presentations and ever so often, we would run out of content, I more often than others. Then we would start making silly points – stuff like “Increase in population is likely to result in increase in density of population” or “The price elasticity of demand says that demand will be elastic with price”. I used to think of this as bull-shit mode, the B-School graduate’s most important quality ; once you switched into this mode, you could prattle on for hours without having to trouble your brain for contribution in the nature of content. Nice to know there is a bull shit mode for journalism too. Content is entirely incidental. One of my favorite kind of news story is the one which goes “(name of food stuff) is (good or bad) according to (American /British /Russian /Japanese) scientists because of free radicals.”

  5. Then we would start making silly points – stuff like “Increase in population is likely to result in increase in density of population”

    Really, the above is a silly point? Just take Bangalore as a case in point. Bangalore of 1950s, in particular the state of the then South Parade ( MG Road) which Abraham nicely portrayed through a photograph where one can see empty spaces and not many humans around. I challenge any one to take such a photograph in any part of Bangalore today. When a finite space is crowded with increasing influx of people (population increase), population density increases. That is what has happened to Bangalore- the increase in population has resulted in population density increase, which is obvious. But , on the other hand, assuming that the above influx of people were to occur in different parts of the State, the population density would have minimal effect on Bangalore, as the parameters are loosened, and the given space has expanded. Hence there is more to the above point than what is obvious and deemed as a silly point. Hence my argument about the long term effect of a metro rail on transport problem of Bangalore.

  6. Thanks for inviting me to read one more of your excellent articles. I relished it. It inspired me to write what I have been wanting to write for quite a while, as also to resume blogging on media issues. I quickly saw an opportunity to recycle some of my earlier articles as well.
    Herewith the link.

  7. […] Friend and veteran journalist, GV Krishnan, has raised an issue of import in his blog: ‘Silly season’. The term is defined as “ a period when media, starved of hard news stories, fills space with frivolous stories”. […]

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