Newspapers and other musings

Sami Shah April 10, 2010

KARACHI: It takes real courage to start a newspaper these days. Courage, or maybe stupidity. This is not a safe time to be a newspaper. Today, the few remaining survivors can be sniffed out by modernity, huddled together in dark and dank places, licking their wounds and whimpering about how the internet attacked them when they weren't looking, and how advertisers bit them with poisonous fangs after they carried them so selflessly across the river. It's embarrassing looking at those old and respected newspapers now. With Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and Blackberry apps, the original newspaper, a bunch of loosely folded papers covered with tiny print, looks like your dad trying to be cool.

Plus, who has the time to wait 24 hours for a news update? I can turn on the television and be assaulted by so many news channels it feels like my brain is being messed by frantic clowns. Opinions and analysis and man-on-the-street stuff is flooding my field of vision like those pop-up ads you get when you visit porn websites (or so I'm told, of course). Newspapers? They come plodding along too late. They don't even have footage of violence so graphic it would make the most horrific slasher film look positively sweet. Silly old newspapers, with their pages that need to be physically touched just to get them to move.

And yet, we still read them don't we? I don't think my daughter will when she is older, but I know I do. But then I also collected vinyl records for a while. Perhaps that's why newspapers still exist, because we all need a hobby. Besides, newspapers provide a valuable contribution to society. Have you ever tried to soak up spilt water with your laptop? Doesn't work! Damn things don't absorb at all.

“Write for us,” they said, “about anything you want.” The fools. It took me ages to figure out what “anything” would be. Initially I fooled myself into thinking this would be my turn as a journalist. Hard-bitten articles full of righteous anger and unquestionable facts. I would wear jackets covered with pockets and hang out at the Press Club swapping stories of my adventures with others of my tribe. Then I remembered two reasons why I never became a journalist: it requires research. I hate research. And journalists get beat up a lot. I hate getting beaten up.

So what then? What would I fill column space with if not the kind of informative and insightful stuff that other op-ed writers manage to churn out. Well, maybe my theories? I have tons of them, none burdened by fact or proof, mind you. But all that make complete sense. Basically, as one theory goes, every dictator of ours had a common feature: a bad haircut and mustache. Don’t believe me? Take a look at their photographs. Middle partings and moustaches with ends so pointy you could slice through democracy with them. Maybe it’s the combination of the two that drives a man to believe he is fit to rule over others.

So let’s make this a column where I can open up my brain and expose you to the detritus floating around inside. It won’t be informative but I promise to make it entertaining.

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