Sunday, June 16th 2019

How press turned into paparazzi for pretty polling officers

May 19, 2019

How press turned into paparazzi for pretty polling officers

Once upon a time, viral content was limited to websites such as BuzzFeed and ScoopWhoop. Now, news media have lapped up social media’s favourite pastime and how! Case in point: mainstream media’s obsession with attractive women on election duty for the Lok Sabha polls.

It started with ‘the woman in yellow saree’ in the fifth phase of voting, gained steam with ‘the woman in blue dress’ in the sixth phase and reached a crescendo in the final phase on Sunday. In the seventh and final phase, news websites were awash with photographs of polling officers in pink suit, red saree, sun hat, and what have you.

“Her booth must have witnessed 100% voting.” Photographs of Reena Dwivedi, 32, of Lucknow began circulating wildly on social media with such smart Alec captions during the fifth phase of voting. Wearing a light yellow saree, sleeveless blouse and red lipstick, she was photographed carrying Electronic Voting Machines to her booth. The chic quotient of the click caught the fancy of social media and she became an overnight sensation. So much so that media houses were vying to dig out more details about her, which they did, and take her interview.

Little did journalists in Madhya Pradesh know that a week later, they will be sent on a similar spree. A day before the sixth phase of voting, photographs of a polling officer deputed in Bhopal, wearing a blue sleeveless dress with sunglasses, went viral. Aware of netizens’ appetite for such ‘stories’ by now, editors pressed their team to trace the woman and get any and every information about her.

“Our editor had instructed us to find the girl anyhow. This photo had become the most important election assignment for us,” shared a journalist working with a regional news channel of Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh region on the condition of anonymity.

As the photograph’s soaring popularity became more evident by noon on the voting day, more newsrooms asked their staff to identify her and bring more visuals. Much information and misinformation was shared on journalists’ WhatsApp groups.

A journalist working with a national news channel in Bhopal said they didn’t take long to discover the booth she was deputed at but she refused to entertain them and asked them to wait until voting got over. “The real challenge begins here for news channels. Unlike print people, we cannot wait till evening so our editor asked me to find some more beautiful polling officers.”

Some reporters did start sharing photographs of other women on poll duty. Some media outlets found the Facebook account of the mystery woman in blue and put up a photo gallery of her images on their website.

As word spread among journalists about the booth of the woman, they started flocking there for their assignment. At one time, there were about 20 reporters and photojournalists huddled at the booth, waiting for ‘the woman in blue dress’ to take out a minute to speak with them. While the long wait made many mediapersons leave, some stay put well till 9 pm in a bid to catch hold of her.

It did end up proving a wild goose chase as they couldn’t get the interview. The mediapersons resumed the assignment on Monday.

Deepak Vishwakarma, a journalist associated with Navdunia Bhopal, said their publication had carried the photos before they were picked up by the broadcast media. He said he had spoken to the woman the day before voting and could recollect bits and pieces about where she lived and where she worked. After some efforts, he found her contact details.

He said she was not comfortable at first with this sudden popularity. He added that her husband is in Army and he too was least bit amused by the media’s sudden interest in his wife. Vishwakarma said he spoke to the woman’s husband over phone and convinced him to let them conduct the interview. Shortly after, journalists from other media houses too arrived at her home with the interview request.

Abrar Khan, chief photojournalist of Navdunia Bhopal, said press photographer of a local news agency, Ajay Solanki, has clicked some of the photographs that went viral. He said Solanki shared the clicks with other photojournalists and they caught his eye. He said these photos were in the same mode a la ‘the woman in yellow saree’ so he asked his team to get more such visuals.

Explaining its merit, he said it’s a routine practice to click photographs of poll preparations a day before voting. He said they look out for expressions on the faces of people on duty and usually, they get dull- and tired-looking people. That’s why, he said, the peppy woman in blue dress stood out from the rest.

The woman in question, Yogeshwari Gohite, told 101Reporters that the sudden popularity left her stunned at first but now she wants to capitalise on it. She’s hoping this fame translates into a chance to participate in Kaun Banega Crorepati. She’s been obliging mediapersons’ request for more information about her by sharing her lifestyle, fitness regime etc.

This shouldn’t be news
Veteran journalist Chandrakant Naidu, who has 47 years of experience under his belt and has worked with top national dailies, isn’t impressed with the brouhaha. “There is no news value in the issue. It is just a fact that a lady is wearing sunglasses and dress and doing her work,” he said.

He opined that it’s debatable if such content even qualifies as news. He held the 24×7 nature of news media responsible for such trends. He said these days, a legitimate news story cannot gain as much traction as a sensational story can. He rued that the race for higher ratings has changed the very meaning of news.