The Journalism of D V Gundappa in a Post-Journalism World

An excerpt from D.V. Gundappa's 1930s book on the philosophy, art, education and craft of journalism.

Nothing should disgust us anymore. Not even this headline and the accompanying puff piece written by ace dynasty toady, Sanjay K Jha. That the slobbering piece written by the slobbering dynasty toady is completely along expected lines given how he’s the living embodiment of the proverb, “more loyal than the king.”

But what still evokes one’s disgust in decent people is that it appeared in a so-called mainstream newspaper titled The Telegraph. But equally, the disgust gives away to the same cynical understanding that dawned upon us when the selfsame paper had run an even more disgusting headline on the Textiles Minister and former HRD Minister, Smriti Irani titled this:

Needless, The Telegraph is a serial offender. Nothing surprising given its heavily pseudo-secular leanings. Of course, there are its more brazen counterparts over at the Johnny-come-lately, The Wire, Scroll, Alt News and similar variants of the same venom: scrounging the table of the Congress leftovers for some crumbs, and hoping for a full square meal in case this anti-India party ever returns to power.

If it is any consolation, The Telegraph has at least made its bias clear. What explains the fact that even academics and veteran editors enjoying the veneer of respectability go on to write similar puff pieces on someone like Priyanka Vadra whose record shows zero evidence of national service or even plain brains to begin with. A separate essay needs to be written analysing this sordid phenomenon.

The subtext though is clear: we are now living in a post-journalism world.

Roughly around the beginning of this millennium, it was initially the independent and politically unaffiliated bloggers who peeled off the respectable masks of star journalists and celebrity reporters across the world. Left with no other alternative, these phonies resorted to the only other option available: they brazened it out. Not only that. They heralded the phenomenon now known as fake news and coined meaningless terms like “post-truth.” Applied to people they hate and want to bring down through unrelenting verbal, textual and other forms of intimidation.

The term “fake news” in itself is a contradiction and an oxymoron. It’s like saying “cold ice” or “hot fire.” If it’s fake, it’s not news. As for corporate-owned media, it has always existed and is pretty much as old as journalism itself.

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Only, the sort of toxic and pervasive collusion, which we’re witnessing from say, the last two decades, between media, corporates, and government and political parties has exploded publicly in an unprecedented fashion thanks largely to the Internet and social media.

True press freedom has never existed at any point in the history of democracy in any country. As in any field, there have only been a few exceptionally courageous and honest journalists and editors who kept the profession on track from time to time. You must be extremely naive or really dense to believe otherwise.

Meanwhile, here’s something to think about.

The last two Tribunes [newspaper]I have not looked at. I have no time to read newspapers. If you chance to live and move and have your being in that thin stratum in which the events which make the news transpire, — thinner than the paper on which it is printed, — then these things will fill the world for you; but if you soar above or dive below that plane, you cannot remember nor be reminded of them.

When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper…I do not know but it is too much to read one newspaper a week.

That was Henry David Thoreau writing on two separate occasions. I’m unaware whether the US academia teaches Thoreau anymore but going by all the postmodern and the various “studies” nonsense that has infested the academia there, I suppose the answer is in the negative. But then, Thoreau came from a different place, he was made of a far profounder soil.

But he also wrote this. (Emphases added)

Could slavery suggest a more complete servility than some of these journals exhibit? Is there any dust which their conduct does not lick, and make fouler still with its slime? I do not know whether the Boston Herald is still in existence… Did it not…serve its master faithfully! … How can a man stoop lower than he is low [or]… make his head his lower extremity? When I have taken up this paper… I have heard the gurgling of the sewer through every column. I have felt that I was handling a paper picked out of the public gutters, a leaf from the groggery, and the brothel

Sounds familiar? Thoreau could well be talking about NDTV, The Wire, The Print, The Hindu, Scroll and similar Fake News Factories of today. Or their cousins and counterparts in the West led by the CNN.


But there’s another definition, approach, attitude and perspective to journalism that was elucidated by a philosopher-statesman-litterateur-poet and multifaceted genius that few people have heard of today outside the Kannada-speaking world: D V Gundappa or DVG. By profession, he was an accidental journalist. For sixty years. From 1906–66.

What follows is a loose (translated) adaptation from the classic, Vruttapatrike (Newspaper), a collection of DVG’s essays on journalism written at various points between July 1928 and October 1967. This slim volume of less than 150 pages covers almost everything there is about journalism as a profession: press freedom, relationship to the government, place of the press, history of journalism (past and present), the four organs of the press, training, professionalism, corruption, and the press council. Of interest are the profound essays on the kind of training that a journalist worth his/her salt must undergo, the oath that a journalist must take for himself, the spirit of duty that must be imbued by a journalist, and his conception and vision of an ideal newspaper.

I have read, nay, savoured this extraordinary volume several times; let it be said that 99% of our present-day media eminences, especially the Lutyens variety, stand as living testimonies to every transgression that DVG mentions in the book.

Here are a few excerpts that should hopefully give a flavour of the book.


Education of a Journalist

The standard of education of those who wish to enter the field of journalism must be higher than it currently is. It does not mean that they have sufficient authority on everything merely because they are endowed with the ability…to string words together. Apart from writing on specialised topics such as art and literature, journalists writing on everyday affairs of the world must, as a prerequisite, have knowledge in the following subjects:

  1. Politics
  2. Economics
  3. Jurisprudence
  4. Logic or the method of critical analysis (in reality, this is the subject of analysing opinions for what they really are)

It will also benefit if these are supplemented with studies in the history of different nations, ancient history, and knowledge of societal organisation in various cultures.

There is no knowledge or fact that is not useful to a journalist. Anything that is related to the life of humans will prove useful for a journalist at some point. Therefore, a journalist must attempt to reach the goal of becoming Omniscient as far as possible.

It is self-evident that a journalist must be endowed with the ability to write in a style that is simple, clear, decisive, unambiguous, and tight. However, this must also be accompanied by hard labour in at least two fields in art or science. He must be well-versed in the history of his own nation, and know its geography intimately. Because various countries and cultures have made inroads into [India]… the journalist must…be acquainted with the geography, history, and culture of those countries and cultures as well. He must constantly and everyday revise his labours in politics and economics. Likewise, he must also have authoritative knowledge in art, poetry, drama, music, and sculpture.

Therefore, unless the journalist inculcates specialised and in-depth knowledge in at least one field that falls outside the purview of his routine work, his standard will fail to rise higher than mediocrity. Those who fail to perform regular exercise in the field of knowledge will invariably stagnate and rot. This will reflect in the writing, which becomes tepid.

Those who take advanced degrees from universities must not forget that there is a limit to their scholarship. Like others, they too must become perpetual students.

An Attitude of Responsibility

The greatest danger that confronts a journalist is the opportunities his profession affords for enacting drama! Apart from journalism, perhaps no other profession provides the opportunity and avenue for putting on a show of one’s ignorance as profound knowledge. The journalist has the luxury of picking one sentence from a famous work and another from an infamous work and stringing them together in an article.

There are few who have the erudition to challenge the errors and fallacies in such an article; such articles therefore go unexposed and become accepted as authoritative. Moreover, he is the Master of the Printing Blocks. What he prints obtains currency. Those who can expose his errors remain quiet owing to shyness, courtesy, busy-ness, or some other reason. Besides, who has the time to engage in such an activity given the reams and reams of printed matter that goes out every day? Other journalists can correct minor errors committed by one of their own fraternity; it is almost impossible for the common people to engage in this task.

If a journalist remembers the following crucial fact always, he will be able to minimise the danger of treading the wrong path: on any topic that he writes, there will be at least one or two readers who are more knowledgeable than he himself is. He must ask himself what they would think about his writing. Such an attitude yields an attitude of healthy fear, which is the root of responsible journalism. The greater this fear, the greater this sense of responsibility, and the greater it motivates the journalist to read widely, deeply, and examine anything from as many perspectives as possible. Ultimately, this results in a greater benefit to the reader. This is how the paper earns the respect of people and society.

I know several young journalists who walk around, sporting thick books in their hands — sometimes, they sport a new thick book every other day. Knowledge has immense strength; however, I don’t believe that it has the strength to automatically transport itself from the hand to the brain. One needs to belabour the brain in order to acquire and earn knowledge. Expansive knowledge is not attained by reading a hundred books; it is done by putting the mind through the mill of just a few definitive books.

Personal Ability

The one who enters the field of journalism must be endowed with agility. He needs to run around from place to place, and at times, must do so at great speed. However, he must also ensure that his movements are the least conspicuous. His eyes need to focus on several things at the same time and must be able to grasp all of them in the same interval. He must not discard anything that he sees or listens. He must cultivate an attitude where every fact, every new tidbit of information, however trivial, becomes useful to him. He must honestly work to earn the trust and respect of everybody he meets…

However, the primary and basic qualification for a journalist is to develop a character of culture and refinement…

A good journalist is one who is useful to the nation.


Think about it.

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Sandeep Balakrishna
Writer, author, and translator. Author of the bestselling "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore," "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History," and "Seventy Years of Secularism." English translator of Dr. S L Bhyrappa's blockbuster Kannada novel, "Aavarana".