(Have cross-posted this on We the Media, a new blog started by Peter Griffin for those of us who straddle journalism and the blogosphere.)
I've been thinking about the various little circles I find myself in, thanks to both my work and my interests.
First, there’s journalism, which as the cliché goes is an incestuous profession. There’s a lot of truth to that cliché. For a group of people who are expected (by the very nature of their work) to be an informed lot, sensitive to and aware about everything that’s going on in the world, it’s remarkable what a sniveling little bunch of myopic sneaks many of us really are. Many of the mid-level journos I’ve worked with spend all their free time bitching about others in the profession, trading conspiracy theories about why so-and-so left this newspaper and shifted to that magazine, and so on. (If you’ve been in the profession for at least four or five years and changed jobs even once, there will be at most two degrees of separation between you and practically any other journo in town. So there’s plenty of scope for frustration-fuelled gossip where you’re trying to impress younger colleagues with “insider knowledge” about another organisation.)
A subset is features journalism, about which the less said the better. And then there’s the literary circuit, a more bearable lot on the whole (though naturally I’m biased) – but lit-journos very easily become a part of the community they cover (through friendships with like-minded publishers, writers etc), and that leads to even more incest. More than once I’ve found myself at a get-together that includes a) a recently published writer and b) three to four people (including me) who have reviewed his/her book. On the surface it’s all very relaxed and comfortable, but I always find it a bit icky. Am probably being too conservative, but well...
And now, on top of all this there’s the blogosphere, which by comparison is a much more eclectic, dynamic group of people – except that most of the bloggers I interact with on a regular basis happen to be journos as well! So that’s what my life has become – one incestuous circle intersecting another to make a cosy little Venn diagram, and the upshot is that in the space of a single week I might easily end up meeting the same set of people (including some I’m not even very friendly with) in several different contexts. A book launch/reading. A press conference for a non-literary event. Film preview. Bloggers’ meet. A get-together at a mutual friend’s place.
People on the outside of these intersecting circles think all this must be such great fun, but those of us on the inside (even those who are a lot more social than I am) know how trying it can be. When it becomes too much for me to handle, the one surefire antidote is to catch up with old friends from my pre-journalism days - the ones who are not in any way associated with media (okay, a couple of them are in advertising), or blogging, or literature. They aren’t particularly interested in my work, most of them don’t know I blog (it would never even occur to them to Google my name) and most mercifully of all they never read – except maybe a Dan Brown or a Sidney Sheldon once in a while. It’s always a relief to meet them. Keeps me sane.
P.S. A couple of things got me started on this train of thought. First, a conversation at The Book Shop, Khan Market reminded me of how small and closed the literary circuit really is. I’d picked up The Complete New Yorker from the shop last month, and I asked the owner how the DVDs were selling. “Oh, they’re doing quite well,” he said, looking pleased, “we’ve sold three already.”
Three. One of those was to me, another to Hurree Babu. And here I was thinking that everyone I knew had been rushing to The Book Shop (the first place the DVDs were available in Delhi) in droves to buy those delectable discs. It was quite an eye-opener. Now I’m wondering who that third freak could be.
The other thing is, I’m currently working on a biggish story on – you guessed it – blogging. I’m very ambivalent about such stories because they make me feel schizophrenic. On the one hand I have to be a good journalist and write a piece that will fulfill the requirements of mainstream media (explaining everything for the layperson, setting down facts and figures, etc). But on the other hand, as a dedicated blogger myself, I don’t like oversimplifying the concept for the easy consumption of readers who aren’t Net-savvy. The blogosphere is so varied and amorphous, it doesn’t feel right to define it in simplistic terms. Also, because it’s so vulnerable to being misunderstood or dismissed by those who are on the outside, I feel protective about it – which isn’t the best way to be if you’re writing an MSM story.