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Waiting for news to happen

My stint in Tumakuru ended abruptly, and I returned to the capital seeking greener pastures. But I fondly remember my friends there. They were genial and appreciably supportive.
Last Updated 05 March 2024, 00:27 IST

I remember my first day on the job. I wrote my last MA paper in May 1995 and joined work as a ‘part-time correspondent’ (stringer) in Tumakuru two days later. My monthly compensation was a princely Rs 2,000 (minus Rs 200 in professional tax). I was clueless. Up the creek without a paddle. 

I had no reporting experience. I had managed to get a couple of articles published in two newspapers. But that was more ‘creative writing’, hardly news. I was ignorant of what the deliverables were or how to gather news. 

Though I had some bookish knowledge of what a reporter does, I had no experience beyond being the editor of the university newsletter. I had no money or the required connections. Being Bengaluru-born and raised, I knew nobody there. All I had was time—plenty of it—to figure out how I would deliver. The district was then politically active, and the city was a developing education hub.

Tumakuru, then, was in stark contrast to what it is now. It was a sleepy city with too little consequence in the grand design of things. It woefully lacked basic amenities. It was bereft of a reliable water supply or an underground sewage system. I bathed in hard water drawn from a borewell. The sewage went into a soak pit. There were no city buses. I lived in a dingy room in the city’s suburbs and shared the bathroom with another tenant. 

I trekked four kilometres to the city’s news centre—the offices of the deputy commissioner and superintendent of police—every morning and gathered what I thought was news. The other primary news source was the Zilla Panchayat (ZP) office. The ZP CEO and I became pals later.

Initially, my fact-deprived dispatches were phrased immaturely. But I pressed on to learn the ropes quickly, thanks to the benevolent mofussil desk and news editor at HQ. 

Today’s journalists may be interested in knowing how mofussil reports were sent back then. My newspaper had given me a free DTO (District Telecom Office) card. At the end of the day, I would go to the DTO and fax my report—handwritten in all capital letters (for clarity). I had no typewriter. There was no email or mobile phone. Social media? Inconceivable! 

Two months of this, and then I got my first lucky break—a news feature. I was naturally better at that than hard news stories. Half a dozen of these followed. Suddenly, Tumakuru was in the news, and a leading TV channel rushed to the city to capture the story live (after reading mine). 

My stint in Tumakuru ended abruptly, and I returned to the capital seeking greener pastures. But I fondly remember my friends there. They were genial and appreciably supportive. I recently learned that a fellow journalist working for a local paper died young. Hence the Middle.

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(Published 05 March 2024, 00:27 IST)

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