Perils of Being a Columnist

It is not easy being a journalist in these polarized times, more so if you write opinion pieces. You write something that goes even remotely against a party, a leader or a school of thought and the trolls would pounce on you like a pack of wolves, ready to tear you into pieces in no time. You are promptly dubbed a ‘stooge’, a ‘lackey’ or ‘paid agent’ of a rival party, leader or school of thought. No one has the desire, time or patience to scour your record and find out that you have been equally critical or even harsher against the rival party, leader or a school of thought. Like instant coffee, verdict is delivered fast – and without so much as hearing your defence.

The desire to ‘slot’ someone is so overpowering that it is beyond the comprehension of these trolls that someone can have an opinion of his/her own and need not work at the behest of someone or because s/he is inherently biased against someone. Thus, if you write something against the BJD, you have to be an agent of the Congress or the BJP. If you happen to write against the BJP another day, you are promptly slotted as a supporter – or, at the very least – an apologist for either the BJD or the Congress. No one will bother to find out what you had written against these parties or their leaders in the past. And it is not as if the trolls belong only to these three parties or, for that matter, political parties alone.

The worst part of being trolled is that no one has the patience or the inclination to read your article carefully before delivering the verdict. A stray sentence or an expression is picked up, meanings are read and inferences drawn where none is intended and conclusions arrived at. Rather than talk in abstracts, let me cite an example from the recent past. Taking umbrage at a piece this columnist had written in this space on the AAP after Arvind Kejriwal nominated businessman Sushil Gupta and chartered accountant ND Gupta for two out of the three Rajya Sabha seats for which elections are to take place, ignoring the claims of strong contenders from within the party, a party faithful wrote a long post on Facebook calling the author all kinds of names and accusing him of sins he had not committed! When a point-by-point rebuttal was made by the columnist rubbishing every claim made in the post with relevant quotes from the piece in question, the AAP social media warrior tried to wriggle out of the argument saying he did not wish to join issues with ‘a senior journalist and public figure’ like the author! And this when three quarters of the said article was actually quite supportive of AAP!!

Another irritating trait of the trolls is to drag the owner/editor of the platform where such articles appear. For example, if you write a piece against the all-powerful officer in the Chief Minister’s secretariat on, you are doing it at the behest of or in consultation with Mr. Jay Panda, who has a running battle going with the officer in question. Curiously, you are accused of doing things at his behest even when you write against Naveen Patnaik even though he has not, at least till now, taken on Naveen directly. ‘HMV’ is the cryptic comment posted by a ‘follower’ every time you write something that can be construed as anti-Naveen! Commenting on Sunday’s piece on Naveen Patnaik being conferred with the ‘Ideal Chief Minister’, a former colleague now in the BJD sermonized the next morning that the least this columnist should have done was to ‘congratulate’ him (as if a journalist is a cheerleader!) and lambasted him for ‘labouring hard to write such a piece and that too on OTV website.’ The good friend apparently found no contradiction in the fact that Mr. Panda himself had promptly congratulated the Chief Minister on winning the award yesterday!

In the early days, the trolling on social media disturbed. But over time, one has learnt to take such things in his stride and accept that this is the price one must pay for the cheek to have an opinion on an issue and the audacity to express it without mincing words. If your conscience is clear; if you are doing your job honestly and without the expectation of rewards or fear of retribution; if you are even-handed and not acting out of pique or malice, the discerning, unaffiliated and unbiased readers would take you for what you really are though they may not necessarily agree with you on everything you write. In the long run, the trolls would fall by the wayside. That is the faith that has kept this columnist going so far – and will keep him going in the days ahead!