Journalism, Journalists and Media – Are failing us, MOSTLY

That’s a strong statement to make, isn’t it…Yes, it is…I will tell you why

Let me tell you a real story…it was around 10 years back, I was sitting with a very senior and respected Indian journalist of his times (his times because he was retired by then).

I asked him, how has journalism changed over time in India? He gave me a beautiful short statement which hit the nail on the head…here is his exact statement:

“Earlier Indian journalism was heavily influenced by British style of journalism, “Newspapers are for news, and if they make money too it is great. Nowadays, journalism is influenced by American style of journalism, Newspapers are a business, their primary job is to make money, if they have to give some news towards that purpose then so be it”.

(Now, my American readers may feel a bit upset to let me give a disclaimer here, his use of the word American was more of a way to describe two approaches rather than bad mouth any country).

Let’s go back to his statement and analyze it in today’s context.

Open any newspaper/TV Channel/Web Newspaper these days and here is what you see in 80 % of the newspaper (either in larger columns or Bold Texts or Videos):

The headline on the front page of the newspaper will, typically, have things like:

  • Bomb explosions
  • Political Fights
  • Terror Attacks
  • Diseases etc.

If you go to the inside pages, you will see news items like

  • Crime committed
  • Accidents,
  • how poorly the economy is doing
  • Religious divides
  • Racial discriminations

If you go to features page and/or editorial page, the main theme that comes across is what is wrong with the world and how it can be fixed!!

Now, even in the entertainment and sports pages, the news is mostly about who has broken up with whom, who has been sacked from a team and wherever you read an article on a game that happened yesterday, the article is full of the writer’s opinions and no facts. If there was no scorecard published at the bottom one would not even know what the result of the game was.

Now, one could argue that if one has only facts in the newspaper it would read like a statistician’s page.

I am not advocating that.

What I am talking about is using the same data/information and giving the positive side of things also. I am advocating balance not just finding out negativity in everything.

Let me give you some typical headlines (actually taken from various news channels) these days, their impact and the same data presented differently and their impact:

S.No.Typical HeadlineImpactSuggested revised Headline using the same dataImpact
1.India crosses 100,000 Corona cases. No solution in sight.a. Fear
b. Pessimism
c. Negativity
d. Govt. is useless
India crosses 100,000 Corona cases, 52000 recovered, low death rate and high recovery rate gives hopea. Caution
b. Morale Boost
c. Belief in what the Govt. is doing
d. Optimism that even without vaccine we are fighting it well
2.India-China Standoff – Is our Army ready for a war?a. Doubts about our Army
b. Negativity
c. Are we good enough?
d. Fear – How will it impact me?
India-China Standoff –Leaders from both sides to talk. Army increases vigilancea. Confidence
b. Hope (things will get resolved)

Let me point out something in the above table. In both (actual and proposed), the data/information used is accurate but look at the impact they create.

Now, before you misunderstand me, I am not saying that news should not be reported and only distorted positive spin to everything should be done.

What I am saying is that the news reporting should be balanced, give facts, then give both sides, positive and negative. Let people make their judgment, their conclusions.

Time for another story, I was talking to another very senior journalist of today’s world.

I asked him a question…I said, tell me what news is? His reply shocked me a bit….he said

“When a dog bites a man, it’s no news (it doesn’t sell), but when a man bites a dog, its news (people read it and it sells)”. Parentheses are my own.

With this attitude of journalists, is it not a surprise that today all the methods of news carriers are only focusing on fear-mongering and painting a pessimistic picture of the world.

Now, why am I writing this on Press, Media and Journalists?

Simple, they have the biggest reach, biggest influencing power, and therefore the biggest accountability/responsibility for doing their job in a sensible, mature and responsible manner.

Just in case you are thinking that I am arguing for only painting a pretty picture, let me answer it upfront, I am not…

The picture is not always pretty and so there is no need to paint it that way.

Do tell us what has happened, good bad ugly but don’t make it worse or uglier just because it sells more.

The worst part is that in all these “news items”, only 25 % are facts rest all are the opinions of the journalist writing and for some reason, most of the journalist likes to sensationalize the happening as if the sky is falling.

Now, the solution and/or recommendation, will the media be willing to put the following principles in place for themselves:

  1. In every newspaper, news channel, digital channel etc. there will be one page/program devoted to what good things happened in the world today for example stories of people who went out of their way to help people suffering due to the pandemic, soldier or policeman who risked their lives to save someone, an ordinary man/woman who teaches poor children to help them build a better life for themselves….heroes are not in movies there are only in real life.
  2. In every article or news item, 50 % of the coverage should be pure verifiable facts and that no journalist will be allowed to do fear-mongering in the rest of the article/program but give a mature point of view (both sides, balanced, positive with negative etc.).

Let me reiterate here, no one is asking media people to suppress news, no one is asking them to only be goody two shoes, no one is asking them to give only one side of the story.

What is being said here is that, please be responsible, matured and decent about things that you do, say and write.

You have a huge reach, don’t misuse it.

You can influence and/or change the world, don’t take it lightly.

And yes, let me rewrite my version of what the retired journalist had told me….

Newspaper is for news, it needs money to sustain itself and make reasonable profits for its stakeholders. Profits made thru selling subscriptions and advertisement AND NOT by selling news, news columns to the highest bidder!!!!

One of my friends has stopped reading newspapers, watching TV (news channels) and stopped subscribing to digital news channels.

Because it sounded a bit much to me, I asked him why? His reply was deep and poignant…

He said, if a highly intelligent and evolved set of aliens come to earth today and to know about this blue planet and they accessed all our media to get to know us, they will say…let’s go somewhere else, we have come to a hellish planet, there is nothing good happening here, it’s falling apart. Let’s not waste our time…they will then engage warp drive and fly away…..

Media people….are you listening?

Readers, as always, please like, share and comment. Your thoughts enrich me.

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