Comment Essay

Journalism and engaging with the world

Steve Coll, the Dean of my alma mater, Columbia University’ Graduate School of Journalism, came through town. My friend and alumni co-conspirator, Phyllis Fang Savage, pretty much organized the Bangalore leg of his trip, which ended with dinner at her sprawling home.

Having read his articles and books over the years, I was giddy with delight at the thought of meeting him. He gave a fantastic presentation in Bangalore at the Oberoi, moderated by the inimitable Rohini Nilekani, and sponsored by the Deccan Herald, my favorite  hometown newspaper.  Nikhil Kanekal, the third generation of the family that owns and runs the Deccan Herald is an alumnus of Columbia.

What struck me was Steve’s optimism. He was hopeful about the state of journalism, books, and the written word. He had clearly thought through the role of journalists at a time when everyone who has a camera and a pen can spread the word–and why not?

I had the pleasure of interacting with Steve over dinner in Bangalore at Phyllis’ home; and in Delhi, where my friend, Anant Nath, scion of the Delhi Press group that publishes Caravan magazine among others, hosted dinner at the beautiful Lodhi Garden Restaurant.

I did not tell Steve  what I am about to say here.  Over the last several months, I have become involved with the launch of Rajasthan tourism’s new marketing campaign.  I am part of the Steering Committee, that oversaw every aspect of the campaign, ranging from choosing the ad agency (Ogilvy & Mather) to deciding whether to do dinner or high tea at the launch.  It has been an amazing experience, working with government.  I learned a lot.

Here’s the thing though.  One of the things that they taught us at Columbia  was about the value of objectivity in a journalist. Ben Bradlee, the legendary editor of the Washington Post during Watergate, famously didn’t vote because he thought it implied political bias.

Now, it is not as if I am some hot shot investigative writer; or a political journalist.  But I have written about Rajasthan.  So I emailed all my editors a Mint about my new role.  What does this mean for me in terms of writing?  Hereafter, I will have to disclose my connection with every future story that I write about the state.

With that preamble, let me now enthusiastically talk about the campaign in the next few posts.

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