Written by Pranavi Khaitan, a grade 12 student
Today, the journalism industry faces many challenges, whether it be expanding from print to a more digital presence or problems related to a free press.
Wanting to learn more about the profession, I interviewed 5 journalists from publications like Asian Age, New York Times, The Morning Context, Thompson Reuters, and The Indian Express. Here are a few of the key takeaways.
Are there any topics or even geographical regions that are underrepresented in Indian media? If yes, what is the reason for this underrepresentation?
According to Anuradha Nagaraj from Thompson Reuters, there is a need to focus on a lot of regions and issues that are often neglected in mainstream media reporting. Although many of these issues are often covered in the local press, mainstream media must look at boosting coverage.
One possible reason for this lack of representation is that mainstream media in India is very Delhi and Mumbai focused, Delhi acting as the center of politics and Mumbai being the financial capital. Another reason, if one looks at print and television, is that a lot of the news that is released depends on space, advertising, and the audience of that particular publication.
There is a general notion, which may be incorrect, that there is a disconnect between people living in certain states, for example, Why would a person from Delhi be interested in a story from Jharkhand? Unfortunately, many journalists are unable to make connections like the story of a girl in Jharkhand whose potential reader maybe a maid in Delhi. The relevance of the news for the audience dictates which stories are published and which aren’t, thus, issues like tribal rights, Adivasis, caste issues and more don’t often make it to mainstream headlines.
The location also plays an important role in this matter, states Esha Roy from the Indian Express, ‘Areas such as the northeastern states are difficult to cover because of the terrain as well as the fact that they are more remote and cut off, thus, fieldwork in such areas becomes particularly hard.’
However, with the advent of the digital platform, such topics and areas are covered much more in comparison to print, as the audience can be found anywhere and the platform isn’t bound by city or language.
What is the importance of free press? Has it been restrained in India?
The press has been acknowledged as the fourth pillar of democracy and without a free press, one cannot expect to have a free society. Suparna Sharma, Resident Editor for The Asian Age, explained that the first sign of the fall of a democracy is when the government begins to control the press. She noted with great disappointment that more and more journalists now faced the threat of being arrested and charged with sections like UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act). This was, she pointed out, the case with Siddique Kappan, a journalist from Karnataka, who was travelling to Hathras to report on the rape and death of a Dalit woman but was arrested at a toll plaza in Mathura under the above-mentioned charge. Harveen Ahluwalia, Co-Founder of The Morning Context, further added that India’s tracking in the World Press Freedom Index has been dropping for the last 3-4 years and as of 2020 is 142nd out of 180 countries. Reporters Without Borders, the organization that annually creates the index stated, ‘ there have been constant press freedom violations, including police violence against journalists, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials’.
Anuradha Nagaraj also pointed out the fact that press freedom is dependent upon ownership. “ If you see who owns media today, you will see that media is owned by a lot of big business houses and politicians. The media takes money from them to run on a day-to-day basis and loses its independence. These people have policies of their own that are implemented for eg. In Tamil Nadu, there are channels that are run by political parties, so when they provide news on that channel they will definitely not criticize the party that is funding them. A lot of media bias comes from who owns the media.”
How can we, as consumers, contribute to ensuring freedom of the press? The solution is quite simple. Suparna Sharma stated that by paying for subscriptions to news publications and by downloading their apps rather than reading them off google, we can help in the promotion of an independent press. “ We pay for a meal in a restaurant and clothes in a shop, so why can’t we pay for good quality, fact-checked information”, she said.
What are the pros and cons of social media in relation to reporting?
While in conversation with Emily Schmall from the New York Times, I learnt she, herself, had used social media like Facebook to reach out to private citizens that were close to a source. She said that tools like Twitter and LinkedIn could be useful when reporting. Harveen Ahluwalia also believes that social media has aided organizations to gain access to a younger demographic and Suparna Sharma acknowledged the appeal of instant information.
That being said, they also pointed out the repercussions of using social media as a source of information. Due to minimal regulation, one is not able to control the proliferation of fake news which can do a lot of damage as it can promote factually incorrect views and ideas. It also provides very little opportunity for exchange and makes it convenient for democratically elected individuals to make statements and then simply disappear. They no longer have the compulsion to answer follow-up questions. Emily stated, “ I don’t find these tools as helpful as what I once thought. The best kind of reporting comes from what a former mentor of mine referred to as ‘shoe leather’ reporting which means just being out there, talking to people face to face and not through the medium of the internet.”
What does it mean to be a digital-first newspaper and does being one affect the quality of reporting in any way?
Many media organizations are building, growing, and developing their own digital sights. Earlier on digital media, one would simply be provided with the day’s newspaper and it would have the same content as that of the print version. Now, the digital teams of newspapers are creating their own content and keeping track of social media trends and debates. According to Anuradha Nagaraj, the digital platform gives a journalist the opportunity to experiment more with the way s/he can tell a story because they’re not limited by the restrictions of print. Stories that newspapers aren’t able to incorporate into their regular structures can be expanded upon in the digital space.
Harveen Ahluwalia states that media houses solely present on the digital platform enjoy a great amount of independence and are extremely focused, but they run small operations and don’t have as big a network as a large organization. Emily Schmall further comments that the digital platform acts as a vehicle to build on a story as things happen. She says that at the New York Times journalists are encouraged to file sooner and then add to their story as more information comes in. In a big-breaking story, this can be a great way to provide information quickly and responsibly as possible to the readers while continuing to report. However, She believes that the downside of reporting in such a manner is that they don’t get much time to reflect on the information they’re taking in. They synthesise information very quickly which may result in a lack of the human element and a loss of the opportunity to reformulate the story into something that will resonate with people.
What was the effect of COVID-19 on the journalism industry?
Esha Roy from the Indian Express spoke extensively about the effect that Covid -19 had on the journalism industry. She said, “ The pandemic had a severe impact on journalism. Even before the pandemic hit the media had been struggling. There were newspapers that had been cutting back on staff and newspapers that were looking at shutting down bureaus in other states, but this had been slow. The pandemic had accelerated this process. Many journalists lost their jobs, some newspapers had to cut back on the number of pages that they brought out and there were restrictions on field reporting. As a result, you have fewer reporters in the newsroom and fewer pages to put stories upon. The space for news shrinks. Thus, less information is given out to people which is a very alarming trend. However, it is supplemented, now. Traditionally it was only newspapers and news channels but now you have the internet and social media.
If you could make a change in the industry, what would that be?
“ To have a public-funded newspaper would be a dream project. We would no longer have to be dependent on add revenues and there can be relatively complete freedom. I would also like to see more women in newsrooms, although there are quite a few women as of now. I would like to see a 50-50 distribution, where half are women and half are men.”
- Esha Roy, Indian Express
“I would like to improve the transition models. We don’t have business models to look up to. Abroad people still pay for news but for us subscriptions are niche. I would like to change the dynamics of the business models.”
- Harveen Ahluwalia, The Morning Context
“I wish that the business side of running a publication and the editorial side are kept separate. I hope media houses get diversified and explore other avenues like conducting literary festivals, podcasts, etc. to generate more funds. There is a need to look at other revenue models.”
- Anuradha Nagaraj, Thompson Reuters
“ In all the newsrooms I’ve been a part of from high school till now, most were primarily male, I would like to see more women in newsrooms. I would like to see voices elevated from different parts of the world. I truly believe that there is value in having a diverse news universe. Diversity in relation to gender and religion but also age, background, and perspectives on life. I wish that the news community could collectively do better in that respect.”
- Emily Schmall, New York Times
What advice would you give to those interested in journalism?
“ Read! Read newspapers and books and try to understand the industry a little bit more. Newspapers are a great source as they are packaged differently than what is seen on the internet and they have maintained their authenticity. Know the world; see the world; get out of the phone. Switch off your phone for an hour every day and read Pulitzer prize-winning articles, seek out people who have had different experiences as compared to you.”
- Suparna Sharma, The Asian Age
“One must have their basics in place and should be trained properly. There is a qualitative difference between a person who has put in years into training as compared to someone who doesn’t have that well-rounded training.”
- Esha Roy, Indian Express
“Read and consume a lot of media, and when you’re reading be open-minded to all kinds of views. If you are open-minded and read up a lot then half your battle is won because as a journalist you have to listen to everyone, even if it’s someone you don’t approve of. Don’t read from only one source and be a good listener.”
- Anuradha Nagaraj, Thompson Reuters
“ I would repeat some advice that I received early on in my career from a mentor at the Financial Times in New York, where I was interning as a college student. She saw me trying to do something rather ambitious and reminded me that journalism is really about getting the basics right. That can never be emphasised enough. We need to ensure that we have basic information thoroughly sourced and checked before we get fancy with our prose or storytelling. It is a matter of humility before the subject and about showing genuine curiosity and empathy. It is also humility before the profession itself and not shortchanging the profession in one’s own attempts to get ahead. It is important to focus on the fundamentals of good writing and reporting.
- Emily Schmall, New York Times
Recommended publications to read:
Newslaundry: An independent publication that does not obtain revenues from ads
Khabar Lahariya: a newspaper started by Dalit women, which provides a feminist take on local news stories
Vice News: This organization fact checks fake news
Please note: the views expressed in all opinion pieces belong to the writer. They may or may not reflect the opinions of the platform. I Kid You Not believes in giving a voice to today’s children, no matter which side of the debate they are on.