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Thursday, November 1, 2012

I am the Media

I got my first paycheque today. It is weird being the newest little lamb in a big, busy newsroom. My first month of work has been manic but so, utterly, spectacularly, worth it.

About two weeks into the job, I found myself commuting without thinking. I guess when you can go from your front door to your desk without thinking of anything other than the music between your ears, you have begun work?

My commute is painless. It is enjoyable – a far cry from what I thought it would be. The comical images of Bombay trains you have in your mind are very different from what I experience. I get the 9:46am Bandra local, which starts at Bandra, meaning I always get a nice, breezy seat in a relatively empty compartment. The gentle clip-clip the train makes as it trundles over tracks is the same sound the Regional made in Germany or the District Line made in London; the familiarity is soothing. A monthly first class ticket is just Rs. 270 or so. Only Dadar station brings the crazy crowds the Bombay trains are famous for. There are so many people at Dadar. It doesn't matter what time of day or night it is, there will always be fighting their way on at Dadar.

I am merely the intermediary between an expert and our readers and I have to become humble enough to understand that I cannot preach and my only influence should be how I articulate a smarter person's opinion. 

I can wake up at 8:30 and be at work at 10:30, which, given my previous 7am-9am internship mornings, is fantastic. I don’t know why but a good commute, where I can listen to my Gypsy Kings, sets the tone for a much better day.

Even though I get to work at 10:30, I am usually the first one there. My colleagues tell me this will change. I love the quiet of an empty office. I can catch up on football highlights and my favourite blogs. I will begin having morning meetings every day and start getting to work at noon. Even when they don’t have morning meetings, they get to work by 11:30 or so. After my stints with European style companies, it always comes as a shock. Shouldn’t there be an HR lady somewhere, disapproving of this?

Guess not. Journalists, like other ‘creatives’, have this sacred license. My first few days, I stayed till 6:30pm but as the month wore on, I had more and more work and usually left by 8 in the evening. During the last production week I was at work till midnight for almost a whole week. It was tiring but seeing my name on the by-line is a thrill I am just beginning to understand.

Working for Forbes is a blessing that I am getting used to. When I first walked in I was horrified because everyone – and I mean everyone – was older, smarter and wiser than me. I was so used to being one of the brighter ones my whole life that being a timid little lamb in a world of fast talking, name dropping, voice recorder wielding wolves was terrifying. I couldn’t talk about anything without realising that everyone knew more about the subject than I did. That is how it felt anyway. Seeing all these clever, witty, well spoken Indians all buzzing around in the same room was a new and awe-inspiring experience. Everyone was clever and I couldn’t bullshit. I’m a good bullshitter but in an industry where everyone is paid to read, listen and learn – you cannot bullshit. You will get called on it and there is no cave to back into it. For example, I thought I was some mega foodie – but at Forbes everyone is a foodie and everyone knows what to order at which place at what price. Better shut up unless you have some real insight. And that same cafeteria mantra translates into you work.

Shut up unless you have some real insight.

So I have learned what to talk about. It took me a month to find out the few things I could chat about with a little authority. The list currently stands at rather pathetic: Sports and Europe. If I stray into any other topic, the sharks will devour me with their knowledge. This job is about devouring knowledge and I love it.

The culture is also interesting. Forbes might just be the most male, masculine, macho magazine out there and this is reflected in the team we have. (Oh God, I’ve started using “we” and “our”.) The gender balance, both in terms of the actual people at the magazine and the culture of the place is skewed firmly towards the masculine. The kind of discussion at the “water cooler” is about women, cars, sports and food. People crack jokes at each other’s expense. It reminded me of the banter I had with friends at university with two crucial differences: these were my co-workers, not my friends and some of these guys were twice my age. It was cheeky, chappy lad banter and I guess it will take some getting used to. Working in very feminine environments in Beiersdorf and Naked Comms meant that co-workers’ personal/love/home lives we strictly private and strictly off-limits. Not so here. It’s much more of a college hostel environment with older guys tacking the mick and looking out for the younger guys in equal measure. But my older colleagues have made me feel welcome and I cannot express enough gratitude.

One person who is off limits to banter is the main man. The boss. The editor. He is respected and revered by everyone and whether he is at his office or buying you a drink at a bar, his measured, stately demeanour does not change. When you see how hard he works and how much he cares for his magazine, you understand why people interact differently with him. He is the one who hired me. He saw something in this stammering kid, took me under his wing and gave me a shot. And it feels great. I imagine his relationship is that way with most writers at the bureau. The fabric of the relationships within the office has begun to fall into place.

The challenge I face at Forbes is the one I started facing as soon as I moved back to India this summer. People don’t know how to place me. As one of the mythical expat kids of the 90s, I don’t fit into a ‘box’ so well. The “where are you from?” or even worse “so what are you?” questions don’t have short, easy answers and – make no mistake – no one really cares about the long, rambling ones. Abroad, I am Indian. In India I am foreign. I don’t help myself though, so I can’t complain. I don’t watch Hindi movies, I don’t speak Hindi very well and the stories I share constantly refer to a life in another city, be that Bangalore or somewhere overseas. The other day I confessed I had never had Lassi. I suspect my co-workers are trying to suss me out just as much as I am them. It will take a couple of months but I’ve already formed reasonably good relationships with my immediate bureau team and it’s reassuring. They introduce me as “the guy who has lived abroad” or “the guy who speaks French” and that always fills me with confidence.

I realise now that I’ve joined a club. We are journalists. We get calls from companies who want themselves promoted and calls from companies that quite firmly don’t. We go to press conferences at 5-star hotels and dabble in some free food even if the actual event isn’t worth writing about. We work late, we work on Sunday if need be. Everyone is always on the lookout for the next big story. Even when you go, wide-eyed and full of energy, to a senior editor with your next Pulitzer prize winning article you have to be ready to be shot down by the age old question: but what’s the story? I’m just starting to understand the intertwining sinews and layers that go into a Forbes Magazine article. My co-workers have told me that breaking the duck is tough but once you have your first full story out there, the rest will flow. I’m waiting to get off the mark.

I'm excited about my first real story. I'm excited about having even tiniest degree of influence of the successful business people in my country. I am excited about being validated: it was a truly shitty summer of job rejections and I am ready to put all the self doubt behind me

A month ago today I started my first real job. I am already different. I am still a kid, but a different kid. I am part of a curious fraternity. I am part of a group I've nonchalantly passed comments about.

“Ahh it’s nothing. It’s all in the media.”

I am the media. I have the best job in the world. I go to sleep smarter than when I woke up. I am the luckiest kid alive. 

1 comment:

seekingaha said...

What style of writing!! Until the time i saw the last word, I was living the movie you weaved.