One of the advantages of being a journalist is the opportunity the profession provides to learn analogously. Every journalist learns something while reporting, and learns from diverse sources. Politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats, scientists, economists, academics, writers, sportspersons, legal experts, water experts and climate experts all share their understanding generously with a journalist because every player wants to reach more people.
In consonance with the music season, let me share a fine story I heard from Thiruvarur S Latchappa Pillai. Nearly two decades ago, I interviewed Latchappa Pillai. He was in an expansive mood and the interview soon moved to touch a range of issues including his training under the legendary T.N. Rajarathnam Pillai whose celebrity status and stardom did not deter the maestro from investing substantial time in teaching. Rajarathnam Pillai, according to Latchappa Pillai, used to tell his students “teaching is learning, I learn some new possibilities of exploring a raga when I teach you. A good musician is one who never stops learning, and the best way to learn is to teach.”
I believe Rajarathnam Pillai’s dictum holds true for journalism too. I teach journalism at the Asian College of Journalism and learn a lot while explaining multiple concepts that make up the journalistic universe. It is a journey where abstract ideas become clear, practising particulars. One of the defining textbooks on journalism is The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. In this book, they have spelt out a theory, which is a daily guiding principle for any journalist who is covering a developing story. It is called the Theory of the Interlocking Public.
Expanding on the theme of making a newspaper diverse, Kovach and Rosenstiel write: “For the sake of argument let’s say there are three broad levels of public engagement on every issue, each with even subtler gradations. There is an involved public, with a personal stake in an issue and a strong understanding. There is an interested public, with no direct role in the issue but that is affected and responds with some firsthand experience. And there is an uninterested public, which pays little attention and will join, if at all, after the contours of the discourse have been laid out by others. In the interlocking public, we are all members of all three groups, depending on the issue.”
As the Readers’ Editor, I had to dip into the Theory of the Interlocking Public following a complaint from Raghav Sharma, a reader from Jaipur. It was regarding this paper’s coverage of the Constitution (117th Amendment) Bill. The reader contended that the news items concerned read as if the Amendment Bill sought to grant reservation to SCs and STs in promotions for the first time. To support his argument, he referred to an editorial ‘The price of compromise’ (December 14, 2012) that states: “Expectedly, the SP and the BSP are now pulling in different directions on the proposed constitutional amendment to provide for reservation in promotion in government service for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes” and “The SP reckons that if SC and ST officers are allowed quotas in promotion, the OBCs will be among those affected adversely.”
He further writes: “Reservation in promotions for SCs and STs is already in place. The object of the Amendment Bill is to remove the ‘limitations’ imposed by the current Article 16(4A) of the Constitution on the power of the State to give reservations to SCs and STs in promotions. These limitations, as judicially spelt out by the Supreme Court in M. Nagaraj v. Union of India, include inter alia (i) satisfaction of the State formed objectively that there is inadequate representation of SCs and STs; (ii) quantitative limit of 50%; (iii) balancing of considerations of efficiency as spelt out in Article 335….This precise import of the amendment bill needs to be conveyed to the readers for an informed debate.”
Did The Hindu’s reportage and editorial fail to give the full picture? The specific editorial and the reportage were caught in a particular journalistic bind covering a constantly developing story. When a political development is in news for a prolonged period, journalists tend to assume that the readers are familiar with the background focusing only on the new developments.
The Hindu in its editorial carried on August 28, 2012 titled Tread carefully provided a comprehensive overview. The subsequent reportages used “quota in promotion” as a shorthand to explain the tension between the two major political players — the SP and the BSP — and their relationship with the Congress rather than the bill itself. The adequacy of providing the context and the background will remain a matter of debate as it is at the core of the interlocking public.