Sunday, April 08, 2007

Breaking News . . . Journalism Doomed!

Breaking News… Journalism Doomed!

While it is very well to say that the task of the media is to inform and educate the public, only entertainment is increasingly being given top priority to promote sales

Writing in ‘The Hindu’ (March 7), Jeff Jarvis, a professor of Journalism at the City University of New York, raised what he called two important questions. He said: “First, why teach journalism? Aren’t newspapers and news doomed? Why ensnare young people in a dying profession? And second: how should you teach journalism today?” To the first question his answer was: “Journalism is evolving – at long last – and actually growing and that’s what makes this an exciting time to get into the news business”. As for the second question, his answer was that he was taking students through audio, video, slideshows, blogs, wikis, web pages google maps, photos, interactive forums and data bases”. Fair enough answers. But there is some truth in what he said about newspapers becoming a dying profession.

Ignorant public
But that is mostly in the United States and in recent times in Britain as well. According to one responsible source, students in the United States no longer read news. Indeed, according to a report by an Indian journalist just returned from the States the situation is truly bad. Writing in ‘The Hindu’ again, Sevanti Ninan says: “Walk into a relative’s home in Atlanta and you discover that they don’t take newspapers any more on week days…. Go around in a graduate class in Philadelphia and ask how many read newspapers and two out of 15 hands go up”. And a friend reported to her that the number of graduate students at the Columbia School of Journalism reading newspapers were zero! Sadly, US newspapers are winding up their bureaus abroad because they have ceased to be ‘cost-effective’. For an American newspaper it costs about $250,000 to maintain a newspaper bureau abroad. In the 1980s, American TV networks each maintained about 15 foreign bureaus; presently, they have six or fewer. So American people are getting to know less and less about more and more countries which is a dangerous development. An ignorant public can easily be manipulated by a vicious government which has its own agenda.

Luckily, the situation is just the reverse in India. In India more and more newspapers are selling and ‘The Times of India’ claims it has the largest circulation in the world! The Chandigarh-based ‘The Tribune’ (March 15) has announced that “responding to the demand of its readers for better coverage of the hill state”, it is launching its Himachal Pradesh edition. According to a report seen in a website, from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, as recently as October 2005, some 23 publishers and CEOs from the German Magazine Publishers Association has toured India to explore potential joint ventures and alliances with Indian publishers. Even journals like ‘Newsweek, Fortune, Time Out, Men’s Health’ etc. are setting up Indian operations. ‘The Independent’ of Britain has tied up with ‘Dainik Jagran’ which is a leading Hindi paper. Fancy that! Then again it is not just the English media that is thriving. The Indian language papers too are doing well. ‘The Times of India’ is reportedly planning to have a Kannada paper in Karnataka. The point is that as more and more Indians become literate, their desire to know is growing by leaps and bounds.
Most of the neo-literates can’t afford to have computers but they are sophisticated enough to realize that information on what is going on around them, in their own country and abroad, is important for their own future. Technology, on the one hand, is making information more easily acceptable to people. At the same time it is turning otherwise intelligent people into morons. We have come to a point where plenty of information is available but knowledge is on the decrease. The fashion is “to break news”, not to explain news. Becoming aware of ‘facts’ has become more important than to analyse what those ‘facts’ portray. The public is being inundated with information, but not with knowledge. It is a very unhealthy development that must be resisted. Currently, the fashion is to bring up tabloids on the grounds that they are easy to carry around, unlike broadsheets and hence easier to read. Readers are lured to buy tabloids because they are dazzled by the page designs, the colour and glamour. One whole page can be given to one news item without enlightening the reader as to the significance of the event reported. The reader hardly realizes that he is being taken for a ride. It suits government because no one goes to analyse news and go to the roots of the matter.
Iraq was damned for stocking weapons of mass destruction. No one was ever told that what the US wants is a pliable government in Baghdad that gives easy accesses to find our who supplied Iraq with poison gas and other such weapons to attack Iran for nine long years. Currently Iran is being targeted for allegedly manufacturing nuclear weapons. The truth is different. The United States and other western powers in the developed world wants to have total access to Iranian oil and gas, considering that both may get depleted elsewhere in the next two to three decades leading to a steep fall in living standards. The West, notably the United States, wants to control Iranian oil and gas stocks. Nowhere is this discussed. Iran is condemned as a war-mongering state, forgetting that for more than nine years the western powers were instigating Iraq to demolish Iran. Iraq failed and is now paying for that failure.

An important task
The electronic media does not deal with these matters and even when it does, the retaining power of news in the average listener is low. He sees, he listens and he forgets. It is the print media on the table that helps memory to last. The tragedy is that even the print media in India is more engaged in making money than in educating the people of the land. The point is made that while it is very well to say that the task of the media is to inform, and educate the public, entertaining the reader is also essential, only entertainment is increasingly being given top priority to promote sales. The excuse behind this explanation is that nearly half the population of India today is under 25 and that youth wants to be entertained, not educated. A sad reflection on out times, but one that has to be faced and corrective measures suggested. And that is the task of educationists, politicians and social reformers