Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Schizophrenia, incest, moving in circles

(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.


  1. hola,

    this is shoummo from mexico. would like to know a bit more about the new yorker dvd s. will then ask my contacts in india to buy them.


  2. Interesting thought about moving in closed circles. Maybe something is to be said about that and flow of new ideas. The more varied kind of people you meet the more ideas you have. Of course the downside of that is that you have to go through the motions of getting to know the other person... leaving the social safety zone and all that.

  3. Happens in other contexts as well. I attend a university with a very large student body, and yet if you are an international student, you invariable end up running into acquaintances of acquaintances at meetings and parties.

    Of course being in the media and in such close proximity with those you write about gives it another dimension. But isn't it the same sort of dilemma for the HR manager who has to make tough hire and fire decisions and yet interact socially with his employees?

  4. I agree with you thalassa_mikra - one of the most tragic esperiences of being an immigrant is to inevitably run into the same fellow immigrants at every gathering. The discussion is predictably about cricket, Bollywood and nauseating nostalgia about India.

    Then there is the monoculture of fellow workers - if you find someone who reads anything other than self-help books or about how to be a great manager or executive or some such, you can consider your week blessed. Yes, even Dan Brown, Sidney Sheldon or Tom Clancy will do, my friend.

    So, after you have such intellectual cretinism at work and in your social circles, the blogosphere, at the very least, offers me vignettes of people's lives that are very different from mine. Like journalists, for instance :-)

  5. Whoa...!!!

    This is actually what people outside that circle always suspected. This is indeed one incestuous circle. You guys are just too nice to each other. And this creates an atmosphere of "monoculture", as the previous commenter mentioned, which results in boredom.

    the whole thing works on I-will-scratch-yours-you-will-scratch-mine or in the venerable tradition of this blog I-will-wank-yours-you-will-wank-mine :)

    About moving in small closed circles? that's true with any profession. What is important is to keep pushing the diameter of the circle.

  6. One simple solution is to realize that life is not just about books, specially given that you already earn your living from books!!

    We all move in limited and closed circles, but as one of the previous commenters mentioned, many of us who are tired of the intellectual cretinism of our fellow workers frequent these blogs to expand the circumference of the same circle !!

    You should also try to expand your circle! Of course that doesn't mean, shut down your blog ;)

  7. Actually Warriors, I wasn't referring to just the Indian students. Even if you move beyond the very tightly circumscribed national cliques like Indian, Chinese, Korean, etc., you are still confined to a circle of international students. However, they are certainly multinational and interesting enough, so I'm not complaining!

  8. I'm glad you admit that lit journalisim and blogging are incestuous worlds. As Julien Sorel says, I've found that a lot of blogs are pretty much used to pat each on the backs without questioning some of the more off key statements they make. And if one does attempt to raise a valid question or two, the response is usually defensive, which becomes very ironic when those being thus defensive make their living from criticising others.

  9. Shoummo: you can do a search on Amazon, or the official New Yorker site. Or just check the link I’ve put on this post where I mention the Complete New Yorker.

    P.S. there have been a few too many 'wank' references on this blog lately. hope those Net monitors don't censor me again.

  10. well said...two things I would like to say. First, read less (it helps sometimes) second, get a life apart from journos. This is a sad lot!!

    I am saying this because, though I am new to this circle and profession, I have realised that one can lose his sanity in no time. I'm not saying that all journalists belong to one category, some are BRILLIANT too. But sometimes you feel great being a mediocre and when you don't have to live up to any expectations.

  11. Eye-opener of a post. Have always wondered if the incestuous camaraderie can get trying. From the outside, these things can look very glamorous and perhaps 9 times out of ten, they are. but then.

  12. T_M: HR in media??? What on earth are u talking about!!!

  13. much like the venn diagram and your take on incestous circles
    it's the same everywhere- professional or personal space
    when i was in college i would wonder no matter which party i found my self at i would meet the same people- every circle crisscrossed and i thought there are only 500 people who party in delhi
    today i am not even surprised when a friend of mine tells me about their engagement and i know the person- though soo new in their lives - from some place totally unconnected
    it's a small world- maybe too small on some days ;)

  14. Easy as it is to appreciate the reasons why they irritate you, you'll be thankful for these intersecting circles if ever you see the day when you can have a sensible conversation about the things dearest to you only via a) the phone b) e-mail c) blog comments. Like I have. Ha!

  15. But dont people already know how your blog story would read?? Another backscratching orgy which would throw up a few more, newer posterboys of free speech. Keeping it all in the family, eh. And then Malcom Marshallsea of therealjournalismreview.com would hold it aloft as the perfect riposte (and probably the one of the finest pieces of journalism to come out of the country in recent memory; CNN YJA, Seema Nazareth, etc here comes Jabberwock) to a cranky Forbes cover on blogs.

  16. Agree with M. Map. I couldn't crib enough when I ran into the same folks over and over again. But now that I can't get a glimpse of them, I have to settle for phone conversations.

  17. Wait. You mean I don't have to feel bad about never getting around to applying for journalism school? But that's one of the ten biggest regrets of my life. You can't take that away from me! It's NOT FAIR!

    Oh, and is it just me, or isn't it just a leetle ironic that this is practically the first post on a blog meant exclusively for people who are, well, journalists?

  18. and the picture youve used is half the cover image of 1N@TC2. clearly a conspiracy.

  19. Samit: good heavens, never realised that! I really should get Chetan to pay me now - what with my also doing a story on blogs as publicity tools (in which both of you are quoted, by the way)

  20. And Vivek, thanks for that anonymous comment. hope you enjoy the story.