Journalism is an oft-repeated word and rightfully so! Well, think about the contemporary world sans journalists. Chances are that many things would actually come to a standstill. While we all are aware about fake news, post-truth, paid news and other such evils, it is also a reality that democracy would cease to exist without an active press. It could truly be argued that journalism is the lifeblood of democracy.
Over the past couple of decades though, journalism and journalists have been facing an existential crisis – the crisis of establishing credibility and credence. The corporate bondage of editorial content and the dominance of business interests over the interests of enlightenment and empowerment have practically decimated people’s confidence on free and fair journalism.
Thus, in India and rest of the world, there is an urgent necessity to redraw the contours of what constitutes journalism. This process would require a substantial amount of expertise and innovation. Now, before we go any further into the discussion, let us understand as to what are the major issues afflicting the world of news globally.
- Fake News: The word, per se, is an oxymoron. A piece of news can’t be fake and an information that is fake can’t be classified as news. However, the word was popularized by Donald Trump in his run up to the White House. It meant any cooked-up or incorrect news – either intentional or unintentional. Fake news, again, can be classified into misinformation, disinformation and mal information. While misinformation is unintentional, disinformation is intentional. Mal information, on the other hand, albeit being true, is created to cause harm. The popularization of social media has been one of the reasons for the growing significance of fake news as a whole. However, the mainstream media organizations have also goofed up on multiple occasions thereby reducing the trust of the audience on news.
- Post-Truth: Post-truth is an interesting phenomenon. In fact, it is more dangerous than fake news. Post-truth creates a situation in which belief systems and emotions become more important than objective facts. In such a scenario, it is difficult to ascertain the difference between news and propaganda. In the quest for increasing popularity, multiple news organizations from across the world have played to their galleries and contributed to post-truth. Needless to say that this also had a disastrous impact on news credibility.
- Paid News: Probably the biggest evil in the world of journalism, paid news is a practice where journalists or news organizations accept payments in cash or kind to either provide positive or negative coverage to an issue, person or organization. As bizarre as it may sound, paid news has almost assumed gigantic proportions in India. It kills the very essence of journalism and reduces news to propaganda and falsehood. In fact, renowned scribes Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and K. Sreenivas Reddy did a seminal study on how paid news is becoming a encompassing phenomenon in India.
- The Absence of a Viable Revenue Model: News primarily depends on advertisements for its survival. Thus, there exists an unholy domination of marketing content on editorial content across most of the news organizations. The dependence of news on advertisements has had a terrible impact on the objectivity and neutrality factors of journalism. Although crowd funding, paywalls and donations have been experimented with in terms of an alternative revenue model, the results have been far from satisfactory.
In the clamour for organisational growth and increased revenues, journalism has ceased to be a social service in addition to being just a profession. However, is it all bleak? While it seems so from the above discourse, the situation is definitely not beyond repair. There is a need to have a fresh relook at the profession and devise ways to reclaim the position of journalism as the pillar of an accountable nation. As it is, the aspiring and younger journalists can play the biggest role in this desired transformation. Let us look at some possible solutions:
- The Pre-Eminence of Ethics: While anybody can be a journalist and one didn’t require any specific education to be a journalist until very recently, contemporary circumstances demand a dedicated media education for aspiring journalists. The advent of newer technologies and the growing demands of the profession has made journalism training compulsory. While imparting training on journalism, media schools and universities need to deliver dedicated modules on journalistic ethics. The students need to be sensitised to the larger purpose of the press and rightfully so.
- The Importance of Alternative Media Platforms: In the current context, it is critically important to create a dedicated space for the alternative media platforms. It is important to understand that it is almost impossible for the mainstream media to come out of the clutches of corporate control. Hence, creating independent ventures is the need of the hour. The same can’t happen unless aspiring journalists are taught the basics of media entrepreneurship. A combination of financial viability and social enterprising is required. This training can only happen at a media school or university.
- Innovation Is the Key: Given the changing trends of the industry, the aspiring journalists need to emphasize on developing innovative practices to again draw the target audience. This is possible only when they understand the intricacies of the profession. Thus, it is a given that journalism training is the need of the hour. The practical aspect of the profession can be taught only at a media school or university. At a time, when technology is coming to the forefront, the importance of training can’t possibly be emphasized enough.
- The Importance of Research in Journalism: At a time when shallow research has become a decided bane in journalism, aspiring journalists need to stress on real research before creating their stories. The theoretical and methodical approaches of research can only be taught at a media school or a university. This is one of the most important reasons as to why media education is extremely important for aspiring and young journalists.
Given the current situation, journalism requires a serious facelift. The onus of giving this facelift is with the younger crop of journalists. The media schools and universities will play an equally important role in the transformation. However, what is required is an astute understanding of what ails the profession and its possible solutions. There is no reason to believe that journalism won’t be able to reclaim its position in the society.
Just in case you find this blog useful and relevant, please make it a point to share it with as many people as you like for them to know the contemporary issues in journalism and understand the importance of media training.