A journalist called asking if Dr. T is in office. I said, “no he is traveling, would be available only by 16th.”
“Oh, but I wanted to ask him if he has Kailash Satyarthi’s number.”
I didn’t get the name at first go. “Kailash who?” I asked.
“Kailash Satyarthi,” he replied.
“Is he someone known to Dr. T? I mean what’s the connection?”
“No, he is this child right activist who got the Nobel Peace Prize. I thought Dr. T might have his number.”
“Oh, ok. I am not sure, but I’d check with his PA and let you know.” I said and hung up.
I immediately Googled to find out who was this Indin Nobel winner whose name I didn’t know. As far as my GK goes, I thought I knew the names of all the Indian Nobel laureates – The Tagore, Sen, Raman and Teresa. Then I realized this just happened. The latest related news on WSJ was 26 mins ago. So I didn’t know the name of another Nobel winner. But as an activist I should have known his name. I have worked in the NGO sector for 10 years.
So two things happened today, divided by hatred, India and Pakistan were united by peace and the media (and the rest of us who ironically depend upon media to provide us with knowledge) suddenly woke up and started asking who is Kailash Satyarthi and why we didn’t know him.
Civil societies’ desperation to gain media space
In my career in the NGO sector, I have seen many organizations trying so hard to gain media attention. I’ve seen them putting so much energy and money in promoting their work. Organization heads would routinely appear on TV debates and would be frequently quoted on newspaper articles as subject matter experts. They would give sound bytes at every raging debate in the media. The press clippings would then be proudly circulated through emails and newsletters.
It’s a constant fight to gain some space in the mainstream media. Sometimes campaigns are designed by corporate ad agencies keeping in mind the branding and marketing requirements rather than actual impact at grassroots. Professional PR agencies are then hired to make sure the campaign gets maximum coverage on mainstream media, and these days social media. There are partnership between popular blogs and NGOs to share and promote content and all this is done with the clear agenda of branding and promotion.
I have also seen organizations running on the brand value of its founder’s name. The founder is often bigger than the organization. Not Kailash Satyarthi though, his Bachpan Bachao Andolan was known to us, but not his name.
How civil society news are made these days
In such an age of tough competition and aggressive PR activities, you can’t really blame the media for not knowing Kailash Satyarthi. I think we have to give it to him that he really has been a silent crusader. I think he is someone who likes to do his work without making noise about it and never tried to hit the headlines at every small or big achievement. And now his work has spoken loud and clear for him, and made the greatest headlines ever. As a friend whose mother lives in that area just mentioned since morning media people are queuing up near Kailash Satyarthi’s house and causing a traffic jam. I am not sure if Mr. Satyarthi is liking all the media attention, but he sure deserves them. Just that its a bit shame that the media which never bothered to find out about him all these years is suddenly desperate to bask in his glory.
Journalists these days no longer ‘find and report’ news. They are invited by PR companies to attend events, a media kit is given to them containing a pre written press release which includes the coverage of the event, before it had taken place, including quotes from the key note speakers who are yet to give the speech. Then they eat and drink and give that PR to their editors. Mass PR release software is used to push the PR to zillions of web spaces no one ever heard of.
That is how news are made these days.
In this crazy scenario, if you don’t blow your own trumpet, no one else would do that for you. So the media would never know about the Satyarthis of the world if they don’t blow their own trumpets. But they have no time to blow their trumpets. They are busy doing real work on the ground making a real difference in the world and frankly, it doesn’t matter to them that people on the social media or people whose only source of information is TV News channels do not know about them.
So blow your own trumpet or not, but more importantly do the real work. That’s the lesson Mr. Satyarthi has given to the world of civil society.
Heartiest congratulations to Mr. Kailash Satyarthi and lots of respect to his modesty.
Some media mentions:
“While we rebuke a Maria Sharapova for the temerity of not knowing who Sachin Tendulkar is, we have been caught with our pants down as we desperately Google our first 100% pucca desi Nobel Peace prize winner” – LoC Nobel: India, Pakistan celebrate, but really we should be ashamed, Firstpost