Wednesday, 3 May 2017

How new media ventures will change the meaning of "News"




Vivek Sinha  

The flow of information drives dialogue and discussions in a society, which is the bedrock of a vibrant democracy. The fourth estate comprising an army of Journalists aid and abet this information flow that in turn kick-starts societal discussions about legislative policies and executive actions. While doling out information Journalists rely on the five ‘Ws’ and one ‘H’ to apprise their audience, such that these five ‘Ws’ refer to What, Where, Who, When and Why while the ‘H’ refers to How. Several generation of Journalists have been taught and made to believe that of these six questions, ‘Why’ is the most important that requires the precision and trained eyes of a scribe to write a news report. This, ‘Why’ puts perspective to an incident by adding value to raw bits of information.

Interestingly, “Why” does an incident or an event becomes news worthy has undergone a sea change, for worse. To recall, in the pre-independence era newspapers were loaded with articles that castigated the British rule and dissected every decision taken by them thereby creating awareness about futility of British colonial rule in the Indian sub-continent. Why? Because the Journalists and Column Writers in that era were fierce nationalists whose aim was to initiate discussions about ways and means to gain independence from British rule. Things changed in the post-independence era and newspaper reportage was more about nation’s progress and talks centered on developmental issues.

However, over the last couple of decades the kind of news being reported has undergone a complete makeover. Entertainment has silently entered the lexicon and before we could realize it is now glued as a suffix to news and has given rise to the phrase ‘News & Entertainment’. Well, there is no anathema to Entertainment and happenings in the entertainment industry does have a news value, yet news and entertainment are of two different genres and attempts to club them together has deprived the sense of social responsibility that news dissemination once had.

This evolution has had far reaching ramifications. Now, events that have the potential to attract eyeballs and can boost TRPs (television rating point) are played up in the hierarchy of news importance. Reporters can be seen in pursuit of only those information-bits that have a sensational value or the potential to rake in moolah for their media houses.

In this scenario, news that is not 'sell'-able is no news at all. There is lure of money and in the process if ethos of Journalism gets eroded then so be it. This in effect explains attitude of the so-called “mainstream” Newspapers and News Channels where information presented as news have rarely any informative value or educative component. Pressing issues that concern well-being of our nation gets buried in the noise of ‘entertaining news’. The domino effect has led to constantly falling standards of discussions within the society with people shunning away all forms of social responsibility.

Ironically, all this is being done in the name of reader interest or the-audience-wants-it-so-we-give-it. Real news gets lost in this blind race to serve the lowest common denominator and discussions get skewed in a manner such that trivial issues take precedence on the nation’s center stage.

Thankfully, technology has been a great enabler in modern times that has opened new avenues across sectors, including news media. News dissemination is now no longer the preserve of a select few and rising Internet penetration has opened new possibilities for the exchange of ideas. The tech-revolution has pulled down the cost of setting up a new media venture. As a result, news portals are coming up across the world that raise issues untouched by big media organisations. 

Often the level of conversation in these newly born news portals through their incisive articles and columns is far superior than what the established media brands cater to their audience. Experts with vast experience in their respective fields of knowledge who were hitherto spurned by big media brands look towards these news portals to share their stories. New voices improve the texture, tenor and quality of discussions. 

This, indeed is a refreshing change but much depends on whether the momentum continues. Current indicators point that this momentum will build upon in the coming years. It should. Because healthy discussions lead to a better society.

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