Ranjona Banerji: There’s more to journalism than social media

24 Sep,2013

By Ranjona Banerji


10 Horrifying Facts about Flying You’ll be Better Off Not Knowing” says the yahoo.co.in site which insists on opening with my Tata Docomo dongle. Why tell me is then, is what I want to ask and then remember it’s just as well that I saw the headline a day after I’ve flown from Mumbai to Dehra Dun.


As much as everyone goes on about small town India and how important it now is and the rest of that malarkey, the morning papers in only arrive in our part of this capital of Uttarakhand around 11 am. The newspaper is a late bearer of bad news and sometimes not even well constructed. I read an article about senior living centres which mentioned an upscale facility in Doon not far from our house here. However the local edition of The Times of India did not bother to print the story which I had read in Mumbai. The Hindustan Times comes when it or the newspaperman feels like it. The Asian Age is even more temperamental. Only The Hindu and the local Garhwal Post never miss the bus.


The reason for this long diatribe is simple: Where print fails, television and more significantly, the internet step in. I cannot be at the Social Media Week in Mumbai, co-hosted by MxMIndia.com, but there is no doubt that the social media has affected journalism, as friends and former colleagues Sidharth Bhatia, Sachin Kalbag and CP Surendran will be discussing today. In fact twitter has relieved several journalists of the task of calling people and asking for their opinions. It is much easier to just log into twitter and find out. In Mid-Day years ago, getting five people for the “Voices” column was a pain for some. How happy they would have been in today’s world!


But more seriously, there is a visible tendency amongst journalists to take social media as a barometer for what is happening in the world. And without dismissing the significance of social media, there is an inherent laziness in this form of thinking. Yes, social media is a powerful tool for sharing information and opinions and spreading news around the world in seconds. With no newspapers and without having switched on the television, I have learnt from people’s tweets and RTs in the past 10 minutes that the siege as Westgate Mall in Nairobi is still on, that the Supreme Court has made the Aadhar Card voluntary and that Ram Jethmalani has two wives and many girlfriends according to Subramaniam Swamy. Well, actually I already knew the last one because it’s old news and I’m old. What is intriguing is why Swamy needs to be spreading gossip but then he is what he is.


However, more things happen on the ground than on social media and there are more feelings and opinions and ideas out there as well. It may be clichéd but India is a large and complicated country and if you are going to report or pontificate about it, you have to get out there to get a sense of what’s going on. Cost-cutting and glorified sub-editors becoming editors sometimes lead to ridiculous situations where reporters are castigated for stepping out of the office. But telephone or internet newsgathering is just bad journalism. Currently, at best, social media is a barometer for what’s happening on social media. For the rest, the world still exists.


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