Medium dictates method

Shishir Rao
Saturday, 29 July 2017

The media industry believes that the growth in social media news is a result of greater and wider access to Internet connectivity, smart phones, and what not, i.e. to say technological innovations; so much so that I am going to use the cliché just for the sake of using the cliché: Social media news is available to us at the click of a button. I, one who likes to believe himself to be an upstanding print media professional, cannot but see another reason from my myopic point of view why social media news is absorbed at all.

It has been noted in the recent past that news being shared on social media may well be the way forward for journalism. In fact, a recent survey had revealed that WhatsApp had overtaken Facebook with regards to news consumption by users; Facebook’s decline in this category was further attributed to the social media giant prioritising family and friends’ activities in their newsfeed as opposed to that of professional connections.

Irrespective of who controls the news space on social media, the fear that remains constant is that newspapers will turn into a relic of an authoritarian past, and TV was scarcely anything beyond a source of entertainment, daily soaps or news notwithstanding. And on that note, it is now necessary to drift in the Mumbai potholes saga for it is of vital importance to remain relevant in the news media industry.

RJ Malishka had a name made for herself and capitalised on it to highlight a burning issue; she did not jump into the limelight with her pothole video, though many others have done so while following in her footsteps. The print media, as usual, was slow, and most major papers took it up only after the Shiv Sena antics brought it to their attention, which is why I feel no fear in calling our present, our soon to be past, authoritarian. Bear in mind, the gist of the stories in mainstream media is not the RJ’s expose (for that is what it really ought to be called), but the fact that a political party, complete with their goons and position of power in the civic body, is going after the said RJ at every and any excuse.

This brings us to the difference a medium makes. One long winding story, starting with the sad condition of roads in our State capital and at last update poised in a young RJ’s allegedly illegally re-done balcony, told by different sources, at different times, with different perspectives, depending on the medium. Mediums often co-exist and impact each other in a symbiotic relationship that has people bashing their brains over the future.

The media industry believes that the growth in social media news is a result of greater and wider access to Internet connectivity, smart phones, and what not, i.e. to say technological innovations; so much so that I am going to use the cliché just for the sake of using the cliché: Social media news is available to us at the click of a button. I, one who likes to believe himself to be an upstanding print media professional, cannot but see another reason from my myopic point of view why social media news is absorbed at all.

But there is perhaps a sterner opinion I need to face. The filters that mainstream media use before presenting news to the public, the very factors that make our society authoritarian, are a source of annoyance to news consumers. And these filters may not be corporate or political or emanating from powerful corridors of something that sounds good, they can be as petty as the prejudice of a measly copy editor. This, however, has not stopped the upward growth recorded in newspaper consumption.

People read newspapers, and of course will continue to do so, because there is a certain reliability assumed to the print word, and there is always a chance that the printed words can be hauled up for judgment if proven inaccurate. 

The social media space is free for all, people pick and choose what news they consume of it, unlike in the mainstream news sphere; so to say, they minimise (mind you not obliterate) human interference in their news content. As a result, it is not expected to be wholly reliable if a window for speculation emerges. In fact, we’d be a much wiser society if we equalled the scepticism with which we view social media news content to mainstream news content.

So where should mainstream media stand? Right where it is. Against the big fish going after the small fish. Against Shiv Sena and with RJ Malishka. I urge my very patient readers to pat a scribe on his/her back the next time they bump into one. We aren’t irrelevant as yet, just a little 
cautious.

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