Most of us catch up on news as our daily bread and butter, to get informed about our surroundings. So do I. After all, information is the power of the masses. Once when I opened a popular news channel’s site, I was greeted by a BIG banner saying “ An inside look into the life and loves of ****” (name held, because I don’t support publishing anything about someone’s personal life). I was dismayed. I wanted news about what happened around me, good or bad. Not juicy details about someone’s love life! But someone decided that I HAD to be force-fed this distasteful news content.
Lets look at Anna Hazare’s movement as another example. Although I do believe that Anna Hazare’s movement is a momentous occasion in our lives, I don’t think all the news on TV and Internet should primarily be only about that, depriving you from any other important news happening in your world! If you visited the websites of the major news media houses in the past 2/3 weeks, you’d have seen that their news columns, videos, talk shows and everything else was just flooded with news primarily about this single event in India.
That’s the problem!
Most of the news available for mass consumption is just that: for mass consumption. So what sells will be published, because people will consume it, and then move on to the next controversy. Holding good news back to publish other lower-quality-but-mass-consumed news is a very myopic approach.
The news houses might make a quick buck, but there won’t be any value added to the society, and the intellectual curiosity of the masses overall will stagnate.
P. Sainath in this interview session stressed on the need for citizen journalism. This enables people to know more about their surroundings: far more than, and before what the media houses might be able to provide. I think of this as democratization of news. And since news is information, it has the power to transform India from a corruption-ridden society to a robust society.
There seem to be the following issues with new coverage in current times:
- Sensationalization of news. (But I think we already knew that)
- Publication of news predominantly from the same ‘hot’ topic, over other not so hot topics (to maximize viewership)
- Quality of news covered and reported. There is a seemingly misplaced discretion about what is a ‘publishable’ news item
I do want to note that I understand that a news house needs to stay profitable, and that it needs the random (at least to me) news on the site. Also, I acknowledge the argument that the news houses only publish what people ‘like’ to read, and that criticizing news houses for this is like ‘shooting the messenger’. But, that actually brings to light a fundamental conflict of interest: that of profitability versus quality. And given that press has to be ‘free’ and out of government dictat, we land up in a place where there is little quality control and accountability over the news dished out to us.
There has been a long debate on how media affects society (just Google it). But I have a simple point. People don’t have much time to read news. Whatever time they do have, they spend on major news channels and new sites. And what they read is pretty much ‘all’ they will take away about what’s happening around their world.
So, while reading about why Ali Zafar wishes to be Katrina Kaif might be pertinent on a slow news day, this news item making a front page news over, say Stem cell engineering research offering a lifeline to endangered species might not add much more value to a reader’s knowledge base.
I am not trying to force a disconnected or irrelevant topic over a reader. This article can be substituted by any news item, which adds value to a reader. And since a reader only decides what is valuable to him, the reader must have a choice beyond what the editor of the news house decided to thrust down his throat.
I think this is a problem of an editor trying to maximize viewership (profits) by offering news items, which could attract maximum number of viewers and get them reading (and in the mean time see some ads etc). In other words, it’s a problem of one small team, guided by very different goals (profits), deciding what should they offer to public.
It is for this reason that news in a more peer-to-peer format begins to make more sense. In an ideal world, every happening is a news item, and is relevant to someone. So, every one publishes news and anyone interested can tune in and get informed! To map it to reality, we need platforms where people can share news, removing the (often greedy) middlemen like the news houses.
New age technology has tried to solve the problem to a certain extent. Google news, and Twitter have managed to do customize the news distribution. There are other new tools like twitris, which map the social media with news happening around the world to give you a more comprehensive and personalized news content. So, you won’t be force-fed on information about “Absurd places people like to have sex ”. Although if you are interested in such news, twitris can definitely help you find such information J. In my opinion, twitris can take something like Google News to next Web 3.0 level.
There are also Wikipedia like platforms coming about, which allow users to publish news items with strict crowd-sourced quality control. itsnotyellow.com is an initiative on that front. Although in very initial stages of its conception, the idea seems to have hit the pain area of a-few-people-aiming-for-profit-deciding-for-the-masses. Since the news is crowd-sourced, there is a plenty of choice to suit to your taste.
News houses have an added responsibility, (just like doctors I guess) to make an ethical choice in carrying out their business. If they fail to do so, we need to create platforms for free news exchange. It is after all, the food for the mind.