The future of journalism in a multicultural world

Future of Journalism?

The situation then

Journalism was a lopsided monopoly of just a handful of journalists, who were looked upon by the citizens as reliable and the paper was the only source of information. The impartial nature of the earliest forms of journalism was manifested in the fact that when the first ever newspaper that was published in India (Bengal Gazette) in 1780 was launched, it proudly stated that it was a “weekly political and commercial paper open to all parties but influenced by none”. Be it the anti-royalist publications of the American Revolution or the anti-colonial prints of the 19th century Indian press, the revolutionary feelings imbued by them led to the country wide awareness and an angst to throw away the alien rule, by bringing to the fore, the atrocities of the illegitimate rulers.. The amount of hysteria created by the press in those times stands miles away from the business oriented news of today.

The transition

With the increase in number of media dissemination channels – electronic, digital and social, the agenda of the press and the journalists also increased manifold. The competition is getting intensive and everyone has jumped into the constant race, ‘to get an exclusive’. Journalists have sensed the changing tastes and preferences of their audience and tailored the news pattern that revolves around their expectations. A new concept of “packaging information” has emerged, pushing reporters to find and publish what is desired and not what might be just relevant from a moral or ethical point of view.

In India particularly, post ushering in an era of globalization, media researchers from all across the world are hunting for new opportunities to tap the unearthed dimensions of media freedom and growth in the subcontinent. This concept drift also appeared in its full form in this portion of globe as well. Be it the page 3 gossip, the extended sports pages, increasing business pages, horde of advertisements spluttering in and squeezing editorial section, India has witnessed it all. The next door heroes and real day to day events have been assigned the lower rungs, somehow. Sensationalism has taken its full form, which is far more evident from the recent hullabaloo over “Baby-B”, the information is being packaged to suit the gossip hungry souls of the B-town and our metros.

However, there are a few positives running along these trends. In India particularly, the increasing income and educational levels have had an incremental impact on the advertisement expenditure. The revenue for newspaper industry has grown marginally in 2010 and is expected to follow the trend for the next 5 years. New market entrants are sprouting up everywhere, increasing the national newspapers’ reach in the regional sections. However, this rosy picture is haunted by some fall-outs as well. There is a growing shift towards the advertising revenue, as the print houses have to rely heavily on advertisers for their mere survival in many regions, forcing them to include more sections on lifestyle, entertainment and celebrities. The government is also showing its cards smartly in this game, as the regional state executives are consistently overhauling the system of government advertising into a system of patronage to influence media accordingly. No wonder, most of the news broadcasters are financed strategically for this purpose. Another trend is that of paid news which has spread its fangs over the print media. A committee report by the Press Council of India has unveiled the practice of newspaper selling news space to candidates and the copy provided by them was being published as “news”. These trends have an apparent influence on the profile of journalists which has increased tenfold in band width with changing skills to survive in a virtual world.

The recent trends in digital media merge virtual and real world news. There are no two ways of saying that the most popular trend in the digital journalism which has evolved in the past few years is that of blogging. This has given rise to a new genre of journalism, – citizen journalism. This appeared in its full form during the crisis of 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and the more recent Opera house attack. Citizens flocked to the web with their first hand reports with blogs, tweets, photographs and videos and served as first hand witness sources to news houses as big as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Forbes. According to Sreenath Sreenivasan, a journalism professor at Columbia University, “ the Mumbai terror attacks represented yet another step in the evolution of citizen journalism”.   However, this might hinder the credibility of the content as someone has nicely put it, “Anonymous sources are to journalism are what silicon enhancements are to the feminine figure; they look impressive to the gullible, but something doesn’t feel right.” -Larry King, an American journalist in London, August, 2005

Challenges and the road ahead:

With the increasing shift towards digital media, the print industry is becoming more and more apprehensive of its mere survival. On the flipside, this has raised the question mark over the funding issues for this medium. The revenue generated online is nowhere near the print revenue generated from display ads. This has led a popular newspaper analyst Alan Mutter to say, “Fifteen years after the commercial debut of the Internet, publishers on average still depend on print advertising and circulation for 90 percent of their revenues. Stop the presses and newspaper companies are out of business. It’s just that simple.”

Analysing this bleak arithmetic, some papers have resorted to creating paywalls for their online content. The race to publish exclusives has led many news organizations to preserve their online content but this trend is changing, with companies resorting to new ways of cashing in on their content peculiarity.

But there is a huge problem here. You cannot run a business that does not generates money. The jobs in the print industry are getting squeezed day by day, so much so that The Tribune had to file for bankruptcy recently. The most pressing challenge today is to strike a balance between making money in a new commerce environment and holding on to the ethics of the conventional journalism, while maintaining the freedom of speech and expression. The idea is to channelize the good that technology has to offer today. The gravest negative attached with the digital media today is the restrictive nature of Digital Rights Management (DRM). The apprehensions over sharing of publications after the rights expire, control over personal libraries, archiving and passing them along in future.

The investment market in India has been very generous with the media due its potential financial value. In India, particularly, the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) increasingly rushing in, with the institutional investors constantly hunting opportunities to tie-up with domestic media houses to gain fresh market or expand the existing coverage. However, simple change in the delivery structure will not do. A radical restructuring of the employee base and revamping the information gathering model is the key to survive and not just by delivering via an innovative mobile device.

The profile of niche journalists is sure to soar in the future as the rising numbers of their salaries indicate; however, the challenge of getting in parallel credibility amidst the clutter is here to stay. Just as Joseph Pulitzer puts it: “Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.”

Written by Sana Baig for Image Management.

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