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BOOK REVIEW: Journalist who broke news in Science to shake the nation

BOOK REVIEW: Journalist who broke news in Science to shake the nation

N.B. Nair

New Delhi (ISJ): Science journalism in India has been driven by passion. Politics, economics or business, defence, diplomacy or home are high on demand and in any media organisation, there would be several claimants for these beats.

As the saying goes "Science does not sell," so is the science beat, unless a journalist is passionate about it. Science journalism in India was mostly focused on space and frontline defence research. The rest never were in the reckoning and still it remains so.

Dr. K.S. Jayaraman's career is typical of a journalistic career driven by passion. There is no parallel in India for a nuclear scientist giving up his job for journalism and join a national wire agency, which at that time was not 'lucrative'. "Not many have come to us after a PhD in physics," said Dr. Jayaraman, who pioneered science reporting in the country.

The compilation of articles by Dinesh C. Sharma on Dr. Jayaraman, titled 'Raising Hackles' is indeed on raising the bar of science journalism. Some of those investigative stories by Dr. Jayaraman read like a thriller, which has no parallel in the recent times.

The book also gives a peep into the process of news gathering before television and internet era and how passionate commitment by a journalist could bring several unethical practices in the scientific field that had shaken the government to take corrective action.

Science, unfortunately, has got into the vortex of commercialisation of journalism. Both the media and scientific community are equal partners in the decline of science journalism in India. It also has a parallel to the decline in science education in India, as found by several research studies.

Compared to Jayaraman's era, "Scientists and science administrators are much more open today than those days." But still there is opaqueness in all scientific institutions. Scientists are either bogged down by red-tapism or hierarchy. A second reason could be quality of research – many scientists might not be daring to face public scrutiny or scrutiny by experts in their own fields.

This reminds the present Science & Technology Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan's refrain that "There is no breaking news in Science &Technology now". He used to remind scientists about Dr. C.V. Raman and Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose, who worked with meagre facilities, but still brought international laurels for the country.

The dimensions of Dr. Jayaraman's personality, as captured in the book, make him a rare breed – investigative journalist, institution builder and mentor. The testimonies of his trainees show, how he had invested in India's contemporary science communicators.

Dr. Jayaraman's tips for budding journalists are still compelling for any serious practitioner, be it entry level or even experienced. There are no short cuts for research to bring in a fail-safe argument to make a story credible.

"Careful reading of journal articles or conference presentations may show the "tip" of a controversy. After that it is literature search, legwork, interviews and, if need be, a little bit of detective work," he was quoted in the book.

"In journalism, there is no substitute for moving around, meeting people and reading a lot." But time is changing. Newsmakers now try to subjugate journalists and try to influence their writings in a particular way. There are several instances of arm-twisting of unrelenting journalists, directly or indirectly.

Dr Jayaraman's tips in two chapters 'Why and how of covering controversies in science,' and 'How to cover scientific conferences,' are essential for any journalist passionate about science journalism. But as he reminds, "....do your homework well before stepping into the conference hall, or you will feel like a rudderless boat in mid-sea."

The book is a worth read and hope it would give the man, who made science as serious a subject as politics and economics in journalism, appreciation among the new breed in the profession.


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