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How our news industry is holding us back, and what we can do!

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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.

citizen journalism

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:

  1. Sensationalization of news. (But I think we already knew that)
  2. Publication of news predominantly from the same ‘hot’ topic, over other not so hot topics (to maximize viewership)
  3. 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.

  1. Ankit Chandra says

    a very pertinent documentary on the corrupt business of news: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7zb-PE4INw.

  2. Ram Sankar says

    I have been thinking on this issue for past one year..One of the best article.. Going to share it..

  3. Anonymous says

    So all of us have observed the degrading quality of news reporting in recent years. They feel compelled to display trash on the main page instead of the 'entertainment' section to draw eyeballs. I think this is due to multiple reasons —
    1. 24 hr news cycle – Channels and websites NEED to come up with eyecatching news items every day to stay relevant.
    2. Commercialization of 'news' – Many big news sites are rumored to publish paid content in place of news.
    3. No real 'journalists' – due to the sheer volume of 'news' that needs to be put out – journalism standards have been pulled down.
    I have stopped visiting TOI website long back. The TOI ePaper is much better.

  4. Ankit Chandra says

    yes thats the term. Yellow Journalism :) hence the website i mentioned is called itsnotyellow.com :)

  5. Altaf Rahman says

    I completely agree with you. I slowly aquired a dislike for the news on our channels.

    There are many ways the channels are playing with the people.

    If we see the evolution of media, earlier we had only DD which itself was pathetic. When private channels came into picture we were happy to see diverse view of the same issue. If we had the problem of draught, we have the problem of flood now.

    I give few examples of how media take us for a ride.

    1) As the compitition to catch public eye grow, channels are vying with each other for more masala in the news.
    Some channel reporters stress the point that “They are the first on the scene braving rains, fires, curfews, earthquakes” They stress this point so much that at the end of the day people will not remember what was the news. They only remember that Channel X was the first on scene.

    2) Few years back, a channel noticed that on some govt building, the national flag was flying upside down. Though it is wrong, and should be brought to public notice, they started showing the scene from morning till evening. The reporters on the scene were acting so emotional as if they are the only patriots standing on earth. They missed some important national / international news just to sensationalize the issue which their reporter might have accidentally found.

    3) Take Anna Hazare issue. Some channels are over doing the coverage portion by showing kitchen and what they are cooking in his village after he left Delhi. We should be concentrating on what are the issues brought to open by Anna. Not what they are cooking in his village to serve the expecting crowd.

    4) New film releases. Every day, we see in news the release of new cinemas, the release functions, interviews with the persons, the producer’s confidence in the new movie and its certain success. I dont know about otehr regions but in Andhra, telugu media is going overboard and compiting with otehr channels for the time spent on this kind of news.

    5) Coverage of famous person’s private functions. Media is gathering infront of houses of some people who are getting married. In telugu there is a proverb “Ullo pelliki kukkala sandadi” meaning if there is a marriage in the village, dogs show more excitement than anyone. If you observe the facial expressions of the reporters covering such functions, even though they are not allowed inside the house, even though they are pushed back roughly by security, they show little shame in the indignity. They assume, by undergoing indignity, they are sacrifising the dignity in order to do the nation some favor (covering the important event).
    6) I also heard (can not prove but heard in general) that some reporters gather sensitive news about rich people (may be their asset details or some scandals in their families) and blackmail them into submission or they face telecast of the issue.

    What I guess from all these is there is no journalistic ethics in India. They dont know the difference between decency and unethical behavior.

    As each channel want instant news, they recruit one reporter per one region/city/area. In their haste to cover max areas, they dont care to see the qualifications of the reporters or their personality, ethical standards. Presently the only requirement is more animated expressions on their faces at the scene.

    I dont know what they call it but I think the correct term is “Yellow journalism” (Correct me if I am wrong)

    Just my two paisa :)

  6. Rajan Alexander says

    Brand Anna is all about foisting an Ayatollah on us

    Read more: http://exitopinionpollsindia.blogspot.com/2011/09/brand-anna-is-all-about-foisting.html

  7. Alefiya Aziz Chakkiwala says

    I have noticed that the hindi news channels sensationalize a 3 min news into a 30 min drama and it goes on, where english news channels in india are somewhat more practical and they give all the proper news, there is a lot of difference..

    1. Ankit Chandra says

      I agree that hindi (or other regional language media) tends to be more sensationalist than english media. But english media is bad never the less. like you said, they are a 'somewhat' more practical. They still are a far cry from what is expected of them. its like the bhoot shows on hindi channels. A typical day timesofindia has a lot of articles pertaining to sex. And, most of them don't seem to be the educational types. similarly ndtv has videos which will make your "pulse race" and ibn live has the famous fake twitter feeds legacy… the danger is that it keeps people at a lower level of intellect. because they are being deprived of quality. pretty much like malnourishment of the mind…

    2. Sarah Qureshi says

      MIND WELL, HINDI IS OUR MTRUBHASA, ( INDAN LANGUAGE , SOME WHATCOMMON ON THE GLOB) – U MUST ACCEPT IT, RESPECT IT & FOLLOW, PERSUE.& BE AN INDIAN. WITH PROUD.

    3. Alefiya Aziz Chakkiwala says

      Sarah Qureshi we am not saying HINDI is bad , i am talking about the HINDI NEWS CHANNEL making a big deal about nothing,,the news maybe of 3 mins worth but they show as if it is a big issue and make it a 30 min programme..aunty sarah.

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