When reporting falls short

I thought journalism was a way of helping, but sometimes I feel I'm only drawing stories from the dead.

Salman Siddiqui November 19, 2010

Sometimes I wonder whether reporting an incident and having it published is enough.

I began to ask myself that a lot more when recently I went to investigate a target killing case in a neighbourhood of Karachi.

The story is of an 18-year-old girl, whose father was killed by unidentified gunmen with a single shot to his head one evening as he was returning home from work. He had no political or religious party leanings. He was just an average middle-class widower, who happened to live in a troubled neighbourhood and was making an honest living for his small family.

As I sat down in the living room of their house, which was stripped off chairs to make room for a white sheet spread on the floor; with chapters of the holy book kept at the centre for mourners to read, her uncle came to speak with me first. I began with the standard questions: How? When? Where?

I was scribbling my notes when the grief-stricken daughter appeared and snatched the pen away from me. With an infuriated look, she asked whether any of my questions could bring her father back. “How will any of your probing help me?” she asked.

And I was dumbstruck.

We both knew that even after I published her story, her misery would prevail. She sobbed as she told me that if I wanted to do something, I should try getting her a job. She quit college because she could not afford it any longer, after the untimely death of her father. But she wanted her younger brother, who is giving his grade nine exams, to continue his education.

When I joined this profession, I believed journalism was a way of helping people – being the voice for the voiceless. However, that day the girl made me feel like a blood-sucking leech – someone who draws stories from the dead.

In some ways, her assessment was not incorrect.

Salman Siddiqui
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