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News that goes around comes around

Journalists cannot depend on just one source of information

You might have heard the story of the native Indians and the weather forecast.

Here’s how it goes: Winter is coming, and the native Indians ask their chief how bad it will be. The chief tells them he will get back after listening to nature’s secrets. It’s the modern era, and there are meteorologists around. Pragmatic as he is, the chief reaches out to experts in the weather station, who tell him that the winter is going to be colder than usual. When this is communicated to his people, they start cutting more wood than usual.

After some time, the chief reaches out again to the weathermen. This time the forecast is of an even harsher winter. And again, after the chief tells his people this, much more wood is cut. This goes on for a few more cycles, and in the final exchange the meteorologists tell the chief that it’s going to be the harshest winter ever. By now, the pragmatic chief is sceptical. How did you figure this out, asks the chief. Their answer: “The Indians are cutting wood like crazy.”

It’s a story alright, and a funny one at that, but it may not be a bad starting point to understand how people form views as well as spread cheer and fears. Also, an important lesson if you are journalist: don’t depend on just one source of information.

I learnt this lesson quite early in my career, as they say many moons ago, when I worked briefly for a business wire agency. I was then working as a reporter and one of my tasks was to religiously track the cotton market in which varieties with fascinating names like Shankar-6 and Bengal Desi abound. Often referred to as ‘white gold,’ cotton has been considered valuable since ancient times. But in the world of commodities where oil and metals rule, cotton is easily inconspicuous. It’s an utterly low profile item — so low profile that, back then, there used to be only a few analysts who tracked the commodity. And they were low profile too!

On the flip side, tracking cotton gave a journalist an understanding of not only the agriculture side of things but also its end use in textile manufacturing, garments, and branding. Its importance to the well-being of the textile industry, the second largest employer after agriculture in India, cannot be ignored. At that time, however, my concern was in writing multiple stories a day, sometimes on how cotton will fare in the market — both the physical one as well as the future ones.

Over time, I found a few analysts who were helpful with their insight. Once, many days after perfecting this daily routine, I wrote a piece on why prices could stiffen in the coming days because of unseasonal rains in many cotton-growing regions of the country. I don’t vividly remember the conversation that I had with one of those routine analysts the next day but what I very well remember is the lesson. I reached out to him as usual, seeking insight. He gave me some. I asked him for the reasons. He hesitated a bit, and said, “You yourself have said so in your report yesterday.”

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 3:42:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/news-that-goes-around-comes-around/article30289217.ece

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