Ranjona Banerji: Three years of observing the media

09 Sep,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

It is three years since mxmindia.com was launched and three years since I started looking at the media as an observer and not just a participant. Three years since I forced myself to start watching Indian news television seriously and not just as an amuse bouche before moving on to main course TV.

 

When Pradyuman Maheshwari, founder and editor-n-chief of mxmindia.com asked me to start commenting on the way news is presented and on the way the media operates, it required a rejig of my approach to the media. I had to try to be more objective than I was while trying to determine how many of my opinions were merely subjective or were based on years of experience. I had to set aside old loyalties to both places and people, which is always the most difficult to do.

 

All of us in the media have an idea of where the profession is going and where we want it to go and then try and bridge that gap – if any – through our work. But mxmindia required a new discipline from me: to assess the media’s doings and then predict outcomes. Often when you do that, everything looks dire. So you relook at your views and try and separate the inherent journalistic cynicism to at least veer towards some optimism.

 

So what have I learnt from this impossible exercise? The first is obvious: The primetime TV debate has to be reworked. Barring Nidhi Razdan’s Left, Right and Centre on NDTV and Karan Thapar’s To the Point on Headlines Today (taking off from his show on CNN-IBN), the rest is all noise masquerading as substance.

 

Sooner rather than later, Arnab Goswami’s NewsHour on Times Now is going to implode. The very drama that was its selling point will become its downfall. Goswami has several skills as an anchor but he is now riding on momentum rather than strategy. The nation turned to him because he asked questions that no one else did. But now he is desperately scrambling for relevant questions and the slugfest that ensues every night ensures that no one ever answers.

 

One hears that NewsX is considering getting some big name in to do its night-time show which may hopefully save us from a child’s view of politics, the same way Karan Thapar has taken Headlines Today from a college canteen idea of life to the adult world. CNN-IBN has lost its sparkle somewhat and perhaps one day its new owners will realise that no media house can thrive with direction mainly from the marketing department.

 

The second is the degradation of print journalism: By following the agenda set by television, print has willingly demoted itself to a secondary status. If it does not wake up to this, it will find itself third on the list after the internet and in the same state as the print media throughout the world.

 

Most newspapers and magazine in India still have the depth and strength of institutional memory and professional journalists but if they do not exploit these resources they will be dead in the water in the foreseeable future.

 

The third is in fact the most obvious of all: Everything on the Internet. But there are many versions of life on the Internet and we seem to be confused about all of them. Indian newspapers often cannot comprehend that every newspaper which has a website is part of the cyberworld. It is not competition – it is an extension which may soon become the whole entity. Journalists also use social media like it is an easier way to get information than actually getting down on the ground and working. But Twitter and Facebook can be cacophony and reality both. They are only useful tools.

 

Standalone websites are so far supplementary and like the real world, cater to different tastes. A quick glance through firstpost.com and scroll.in will prove that in buckets.

 

Instead of a forecast, I’m going to end with some advice for today’s ambitious young journalists: Don’t look at this as a profession but as a vocation. Don’t look at your work as a way to a promotion but as a way to the next great story or the next great page or photograph or programme. Being on top is not just getting a bigger desk. If you don’t get that, then it’s all gloomy with a chance of oblivion. On that note, congratulations to mxmindia.com and may the force be with you!

 

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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Three years of observing the media”

  1. V Raj says:

    Fair and balanced view of the media, as far as it goes. But the websites of the print media call for more critical comment, the Times of India in particular. Seems to take off from Filmfare. As for TV, the news
    channels seem to have lost their way. They focus on a ‘breaking news’
    topic or two. Not only developments in India but global events receive
    no coverage. The advice dto ‘today’s ambitious young journalists’ smsacks of a bygone age! Look forward to Rsanjona Banerjee’s next
    commentary.

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