There was a recent story on CNN-IBN about a murder in broad daylight in East Delhi. What was peculiar about it, from the journalism angle, is that they showed scenes of the dead body lying on the street. There was no panic situation (as there is, in times like a bomb blast) while the camera focussed on the dead body, as if it was a commodity to be screened long enough for prime time. As reported, the police had failed to turn up before the press found out about it and there was no one to take control of the happenings at that point of time.
I think this is where journalism crosses the line. It is this line that electronic journalism needs to honor but fails to do so. It’s disappointing and perhaps alarming that the news channels find it so difficult to respect the dead. In a bid to fill the prime time slots, these channels go overboard. There have been enough voices raised by bloggers and by a few journalists of the “old school” kinds but clearly no one is listening.
All this while, the print media is dipping to lows of a different kind. Print media houses are essentially organizations that intend to make profit and they need to target a particular audience if they are to be in the market. In a bid to capture this audience, newspapers tend to disassociate with values they earlier stood for. The writers and articles that once formed the elite of the newspaper are compressed and done with in two pages.
So what we have, in the end, is basically something like those 10 pages that come as a “supplement” to the main newspaper. The first and the last pages usually have photos of skimpily clad women and news of their (not so) private affairs. I was in Delhi and I think it was in the mid-90s, initiated by The Times of India, that the “supplement” started to come 7 days a week with the main newspaper. A few months later TOI had eaten into Hindustan Time’s share. HT couldn’t bear it for long and what soon followed was a total overhaul (thats what they call it) of the look and feel of Delhi’s most popular Newspaper. Changes didn’t restrict themselves to the supplement. The whole newspaper, soon, had hardly any relevant news.
I know some people who start their morning reading the supplement first. I know some who read just the supplement. Now, many would say that this is what the people want. People asked for it and thats what they are getting. I think that argument is crap. People never asked for it.
It is not the people who have been calling the shots. It is the publication itself. You take up an aggressive marketing stance. Then, you feed people with the most irrelevant news that you can find on the planet and you continue feeding them that. You go to schools and you distribute the newspapers with supplements, free, to kids in the name of education. The kids grow up and by that time they are so used to your newspaper that…well, they start reading only the supplement. Then you claim that this is what people want. And, this, is just one way of doing it.
Even then, my problem is not with how a newspaper looks. My problem is that the quality of writing that makes up the newspaper is not of the standard an editor can look up to. I don’t have any problem with the photos that take up most of the space but I am concerned with the quality of the text that lies in the space that remains.
Another point: Blogs are serious competition to newspapers. Blogs vis-a-vis Newspapers; Not as sources of authentic information but for something as basic as quality of prose. The difference between the reader that you were 10 years ago and the reader that you are now is that you have less time to read. And if you spend most of that time reading blogs, shouldn’t Mr. Newspaper editor be concerned?