It is rather odd to be proud of what we no longer have and not contemplate instead for what we should have right here, right now.

That’s according to Hooshang Aalam, a veteran journalist with almost fifty years of experience in Iranian press media.

Born in 1948 in Tehran, he has worked for major newspapers and publications such as Roshangar, Sobh-e-Emrooz, Bamdad, Iran Khabar, and Rastakhiz, among others. He is chief editor of Azma, a cultural magazine. What follows is his take on journalism and life in Iran:

On journalism as profession:

I began working as trainee journalist in 1967. In 1973, I worked for Rastakhiz daily as chief editor – that was until it closed down in the revolution of 1979. After that with a group of veteran journalists I helped plan and publish Iran for the first time - a state-owned daily newspaper. For 18 years though, I have worked as chief editor of Azma magazine.

On demise of post-Internet journalism:

Our young journalists are far more talented than their predecessors. What I don’t like to see is the gradual death of originality, i.e., journalists restrained by certain rules and regulations. This kills off their imagination and creativity. In those years, journalists like me had to go into the heart of the society to produce news reports and stories in order stay in the game. These days, this is taken for granted. Journalists have access to almost anything at the click of a button.

The new generation uses mobile phones to go through the news, copy paste what they want, and perhaps change the title a bit, in order to make it all their own. No creativity or originality here. They never feel the pressure to contemplate or to look for an interesting material and subject outdoors. Sure enough, those who work hard and are creative enough, their works are not appreciated either. That says why many people no longer bother to buy newspapers and magazines. Worse still, most of the news and materials published by newspapers look the same; they are almost identical. This even includes typos!


What needs to be done?

There is a huge gap between the older and younger generation of journalists. There is no exchanging and sharing of experiences here. The older generation is dying off fast and they better find a way to share their hard-earned experiences and skills with younger generations. The good news is that we have formed the Association of Veteran Journalists. The idea is to build working relations with contemporary journalists and share experiences.

On the whole thing contemporary journalists do:

There are bright talents in the field. The problem is, they have been left to their own devices. They have little on-the-job experiences. A journalist is a mirror, a hands-on looking glass for his society. He or she should build the bridge between the general public and the state. You can’t possibly do this from behind your desk while surfing the Internet. A desk is a dangerous place to see the world. Life is out there and the Internet or the cyber space only reflects a small part of that physical world. It is wrong to depend on such a trivial sphere to do big things. It’s professional suicide.

هوشنگ اعلم

On the linguistics of reporting:

Language is an important tool for journalists. The thing is, not many journalists are familiar with the linguistics, let alone how to use them. They have not mastered the linguistics to help them connect with their readers. This is a huge loss. Writing is what a journalist does and it requires a set of linguistic skills. As journalist, you must study a lot, read a lot, and contemplate a lot. Only then is it possible to build for yourself a strong and professional vocabulary and wordlist. I see journalists who can’t even spell words correctly.

On book publishing:

I have been too busy, perhaps too lazy, to write books. I’m still working on it. I have however jotted down some materials, stories and poems – like other journalists. Perhaps it is because of idleness that these materials never get published in a book. Whatever this is, if it is going to happen, it will happen when the time is right.

The epilogue:

I am pretty concerned about Persian literature, particularly in the sphere of journalism. Journalistic language is not literary language. The language of journalist should be comprehensible to everyone. It is silly for journalists to brag about having a unique literary language. Poor knowledge in literature is the reason why so many poorly-written materials get published in the news. We should never be afraid of using English or Arabic words. On the other hand, it is wrong to use them without some sort of discipline and control.

There are many stunning Persian words that have become forgotten and extinct. We can only find them in the works of literary masters. For instance, Mahmoud Dolatabadi uses unique, beautiful words in his books for his realist depictions of rural life, drawn from personal experiences, which no one uses these days. Instead, they have been replaced with foreign words, which is tragic.

Just as it is not always compulsory to use foreign language words, it is also not compulsory to formulate weird words for new foreign words. Television is Television. What’s the big idea behind using a weird name for it? It’s a huge blow to Persian literature when we use arbitrary, irrational words to replace foreign words. In its place, we can always use our own familiar words that have been around all throughout history.

Lest we forget, Persian language is the biggest asset for journalists. It’s our identity and our priority. It connects us to our past; the past that we all value and treasure. We must however transfer and contemporize these values as well. We have to stop living in the la la land. Slogans will not get us anywhere. It won’t help us inherit historic principles. What’s important is what we have now. We were once global leader in human rights. Where are we now? We are so proud of this particular part in our history. But what do we have now from that glorious past?

It is sad but true. We are still proud of what we no longer have. We have also stopped thinking about the important things we must have right here, right now. The same situation exists in Persian linguistics. We have been equally negligent to this part of our rich culture and heritage as well. Like many other socio-cultural, ethical values and legacies, we have neglected and forgotten the many fine traits we once had in own rich language and literature.

Translation by Bobby Naderi