Below is the summary of the fourth chapter of Mapping Digital Media: India (2012), a country report by Vibodh Parthasarathi et al. for Open Society Foundations, London.
Digital tools have enabled some journalists to don the role of “crusaders,” some even becoming “active participants” in big events. They have often successfully forced authorities to act on the issues they have raised. However, multiple media formats and the increased number of media organizations have put pressure on journalists to be “first” with the news. Hence, even in the case of investigative journalism or “sting” operations, some rush out unsubstantiated or unbalanced reports. This has added to concerns about the ethics and values of the profession.
Crucial changes in audience patterns have also left their mark. More than 55 percent of India’s population is under 25, and these consumers of news are less interested in politics and more in such issues as entertainment, technology, and matters of more immediate concern, such as local crime. Therefore, despite the mushrooming of news channels owned by politicians, media still tend to focus more on infotainment, rather than on traditional political, economic, and social issues.
Converged single newsrooms
Media owners have not pushed hard for “converged” single newsrooms, apparently because they are unconvinced about their efficacy. They have largely neglected to develop their websites, seeing no profit in it. There has also been no urgency to cut editorial costs and maximize content synergies across platforms. This is surprising because most print-media companies (Hindustan Times, The Times of India, India Today, Outlook, The Hindu, and others) have already invested in technology. But print and television journalists have yet to realize the significance of an online presence, so the concept of digitized and single newsrooms hasn’t taken off.
Aniruddh Bahl, Founder Cobrapost.com
The strengths of digitization have, ironically, become its weaknesses. Although research and access to information has become easier for investigative reporters, this has caused journalists to become “lazy.” As Aniruddha Bahl of Cobrapost.com said, they rely too much on online resources, although these should just be their starting points or provide only the background to pursue a story.
The pace factor in the digital delivery
The frenetic pace, partially set by digitization and partly by competition, has led to mistakes, even blunders. In addition, round-the-clock schedules leave reporters and editors with less time to pursue serious, long-term, in-depth investigations. Apart from a few print publications, mainstream television channels and websites have been unable to pursue investigative journalism seriously.
At the same time, digitization has possibly led to greater media censorship by powerful interest groups. Unlike in the case of newspapers and magazines, external pressures to drop a story are much greater in online/television media—because stories can easily be withdrawn from websites and news channels.
Sheela Bhatt, Senior Editor, Rediff.com
Covering for and discovering the immediate audience
With national media focusing on national, urban, and middle class issues, and regional media on more local issues, sub-regional outlets focus on even more micro issues. This trend indicates that social and cultural diversity, especially when it relates to covering marginalized groups and smaller, regional political parties, has improved. The other, equally strong, trend is that specific media tend to restrict the span of diversity, since they seek to concentrate on issues that interest their immediate audiences: while each outlet tends to report a less diverse palate of stories, the increase in the number, language, and spectrum of media outlets has meant a widening of reportage on social and cultural issues.
To ensure fair coverage of elections, the EC [Election Commission of India] initiated critical steps related to part-restrictions on pre-poll surveys and exit polls, and allocation of airtime to political parties. This, maintain experts, has resulted in freer, more transparent, and wider (more diverse) coverage of elections. To wriggle out of the EC’s rules, political parties resorted to “paid news” in print products, which was not regulated. Although “paid news” can be criticized on ethical and moral grounds, it has given opportunities to smaller, but rich, parties (and politicians) to address voters, especially at the state and constituency levels. There is also a feeling that restrictions may have reduced diversity, as they enabled television channels and print publications to conduct more political debates during the pre- and post-election periods.
Can digitization mainstream the marginalized?
Clearly, digitization (especially the internet and mobile platform) has helped marginalized groups (like ethnic, religious, caste, and social minorities) to voice their views and concerns, which also get reflected in mainstream media at some point in time. Various factions in Kashmir have their own websites, as do advocacy groups of Dalits and sexual minorities.
However, the feeling continues that more of this content and information has to find its way into the mainstream (national and state level media products). For instance, especially in the wake of recent attacks on Assamese, the coverage of north-eastern states continues to be negligible unless there is a conflict. Such is the case with rural India, whose issues are not reported adequately by national media.
The Assamese fleeing Bangaluru after attacks and rumour of more attacks on the people from the North East
Open Foundation Society, London