Dialogue  July-September,  2010, Volume 12 No.1

News in Search of a Media

Mrinal Pande

News, is not only being paid for, but also created out of thin air and then stolen by the ever news starved web portals and 24x7 news channels. All without acknowledging the source or even verifying the facts. A major Hindi daily in Delhi to prove this, sported on All Fool’s day, not one or two but four audacious and entirely cooked up stories: Sania’s mother in law fulminates to a Pak daily against her star Bahu wearing mini skirts, Modi to be the next Prime Ministerial candidate for the BJP, Mulayam’s daughter in law on the war path, and Ashwarya Rai, the next Bond Girl. The editors having planted the stories early in the morning on their portal, lay in wait for the ‘thieves’ to cut and paste these on their sites as ‘Breaking News”. They did not have to wait for too long. Soon all four stories had surfaced on numerous portals and several news channels were calling to check on the contact number for the Pakistani ‘source’. One channel, unable to control itself , began carrying the stories  with the help of stock footage . The fact that the Sania story was sourced to a non existent Pakistani daily by the name of Nishan e Jung, went entirely unnoticed by the news gatherers and their editors.

     The daily then quickly arranged for screen shots of the plagiarised stories on various web sites and ran a story the next day, titled “April Fool Banaya to Unko Idea Aaya ..”.

       Thus ‘Breaking News “. Entirely unpaid for.

     News that creates great news papers and media establishments, that,    incidentally, still trains and lends  the visual media most of its seasoned hands , will need time, money, sophistication , and expertise, qualities notably in short supply in the IRS / NRS /TAM driven media today . For the last 150 years ( since Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World introduced the cross word) , the ideal or near ideal mix for a news paper was 15% hard news + 35% soft (people pleaser) stories and the rest  features , entertainment cartoons, astro predictions , and such like . It was however, the lure of handling this 15% part of a newspaper that attracted the best minds and skilled hands into the business. Those fabled seven, eight figure salaries flashy cars and farm house parties came only in the last decade. But despite its small size, hard news, as demonstrated by this corps of committed news wallahs was, and continues to be, the part that wins the newspapers and their men and women the most prestigious awards, citations and public praise and brings the media house a mantle of honour and respectability along with handsome profits.

     In an age of I Pods and I phones, citizen journalists and film actor editors of the day, 24x7 channels set the pace for ‘breaking news’. Tweeting is the most favored format and SMSing the new language. How does one gather and then effectively anchor news stories for the new and distracted readers/viewers, linking them to the warmth of a recognisable community of fellow humans? This is the major challenge that faces the print, television and web portals. There  are no villains in this story , only a mad scramble to survive a sudden shifting of earth’s crust  and the need to fill the new and vast spaces with news that gets stale within the hour and must be revived with spit and polish or simply cast aside and replaced with another ‘breaking news'

   Trivial news is unaffected by the crisis nor will it be. But the disappearance of the hard news as we knew it, is dangerous because however much the new breed of managers and smart alecky media barons may try to belittle its importance, it is this core that feeds all branches of the media including the search engines. Even those (like Ramgopal Verma, Cyrus Broacha and Raju Srivastava) who lampoon or castigate news, need real news and news casters as pegs. Even for a Modi to fulminate against the media, there has to be a body of facts collected and disseminated painstakingly over the years by the Teesta Setalvads, Rajdeeps and Ritu Sareens. The ultimate Big Question in this age of the Cyber Kalki is, who pays for hard news, the life blood of the freedom of opinion?


Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati