Ranjona Banerji: Nothing’s changed in a no news week!

19 Feb,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The last week has been spent on holiday in Munnar, surrounded by tea estates and no internet connectivity. And given the enormous natural beauty around, there has been no time or inclination to watch television. News has been gleaned from a cursory glance at a newspaper at breakfast before rushing off somewhere or the other.

 

And what have I found? That when you come back to it, nothing has changed. There’s Anna Hazare smiling his gummy smile in support of Mamata Banerjee. There’s Andhra Pradesh in an uproar over its imminent separation into two states. There’sNarendra Modi thundering along in some mock martial pose. And there’s the Aam Aadmi Party ready with its plan to take over the country. And there’s India, losing another cricket series away from home.

 

Of course, the news cycle is what it is. When you work in a newsroom you do not always realise how little you have to work with. The latest scandal or some new revelation in an ongoing case consumes you. But as a “consumer”, you are faced with a wall of homogenous mediocrity from which you try and find something that might interest you. The short lesson is this: journalists need to spend a little time as consumers of their own products to understand how boring or predictable they can become.

 

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The upside of being in a new place of course is the local news: the auto drivers’ striking in Coimbatore over set rates, the bird-sighting successes in the Ooty-Coonoor area, the latest freebie from the Jayalalitha government in Tamil Nadu or the side-stepping between the Communists and the Congress in Kerala are far more informative than the tedium of national news. The fact that the film stars are all different in South India also helps – the grasp of Bollywood reaches only so far.

 

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The biggest loss of bad connectivity, at least on my part, came from the sudden divorce from social media. You do not realise, until you do not have it, how much those of us who use it depend on social media for the latest news and views. Twitter for the news and Facebook for the links which your friends find useful, instructive or annoying. You get glimpses into worlds you are not always familiar with and those can be used for topics of discussion in Twitter. Mainstream media needs to do a bit of thinking here, even while it still reaches where the dongle does not work!

 

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Television news in India is still struggling with whether it is a news provider or an opinion aggregator, which is odd. It is clearly, the first place for “breaking news” as it never ceases to tell us (until the internet wins that war, which it will). But in India, it is still obsessed with picking up millions of opinions and presenting those, without establishing what is being discussed. Our host tried desperately on Wednesday morning to find out from television news just what had happened to the last Test match India played in New Zealand. But all he got from TV was a discussion on MS Dhoni’s captaincy from the anchors, from Rahul Dravid and from Sunil Gavaskar. From reading between the lines, we gathered that the Test was drawn. Who knows what the truth is. What is it, by the way?

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator based in Mumbai. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. She can be reached via Twitter at @ranjona. The views here are her own

 

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