Simply plural of the word ‘new’ or acronym N.E.W.S. i.e. noteworthy information from all four directions, the meaning of NEWS has evolved in 21st century. The most significant evolutionary moment in journalism coincided with new consumer technology intervention, pretty much like in most other forms of content consumption. Smart phones, tech-driven changes in the last decade have directly engaged news makers with news consumers in a new way. Frenzied impetuous words at the speed of thoughts are tweeted or retweeted as news. At a deeper level, new (social) media is changing the way idea of democracy is being consumed through smart phones. News media as the strong pillar of democracy is thereby undergoing fundamental changes like never before in journalism history.
Supply-controlled to Demand-liberalised News Consumption
Indians have come a long way from the days of ‘Ye Akashvani hai, ab aap Devkinandan Pandey se Samachar suniye’ to directly following PM Modi or MEA Sushma Swaraj on Twitter. Indians patiently waited for news ‘appointment listening’ on their radio sets. In villages, people surrounded limited radios with unending tolerance for electricity, radio signal and right frequency tuning to listen to crackling, often barely audible broadcast. Nowadays people can directly message to Ministers and bureaucrats seek their attention to requests or grievances. More than 22.7 million people directly follow & engage with Prime Minister’s Office @PMOIndia on Twitter. From ‘waiting for news’ to ‘selecting news’ by personal interest, noteworthiness and choice of source - by media vehicles, by channels, languages, anchors, time slots, interest and time investment in news consumption is driven by people. To the extent of serving audience, editors argue that ‘mass market’ enjoys the rush of sensationalism more than the depth of incisively analysed news per editorial policy.
News Broadcasting to Content’s Digital Marketing
In traditional business parlance, news has shifted from ‘distribution push’ to ‘consumption pull’ on the media marketing axis. Distribution still plays a key role in the success of a news brand in legacy media but new social media, with free access and high speed, it provides freedom to selectively engage and determine demand for certain type of news. Power shifts from ‘media owners to media consumers’ are evident in many ways. Making of news resembles assembly line operation of manufacturing sector which is why ‘fake news’ trade is the fastest growing service in parallel. Scope of news has been expanded by news consumers more than the news broadcasters. Traditionally high interest areas under news are politics, business, sports, entertainment, national, global, regional news. Now legacy news, still the flagship, is joined by fast growing ‘video’ as ‘other news content’ line of extension. The idea of ‘live video’ which is usually candid, shot on smart phones cameras and directly uploaded in real time by the so called news reporters. Often it is argued that people love watching videos more than reading long text of print journalism but internet is endlessly populated and polluted with content. This essentially draws the line of credibility and trustworthy. Most unedited or unchecked videos on internet do not fall in the category of ‘credible news’ which still has to go through editor’s policy or guidelines scrutiny. The ‘unedited, uncontrolled, incredible’ videos still have large share of ‘masala information /news’ content which is growing in quantum by news-users generated content.
Graceful Anchors to Hostile News Warriors
Media content was always popularised and recalled with an anchor. Famous programmes were and are known by their anchors e.g. Binaca Geet Mala with Ameen Sayani, Commentary with Melville De Mellow or Jasdev Singh, Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan with Tabassum , KBC with Amitabh Bachchan, Arnab with News Hour Times Now, Rajat Sharma with Aap ki Adalat India TV, Barkha Dutt with We The People NDTV 24x7, media programmes etc.
Unlike print journalists, TV News readers, without any explicit promotion, always enjoyed screen fame. Graceful rose-tucked in hair Salma Sultan to popular Vinod Dua, English news readers with great voice & diction Sunit Tandon ,Rinni Simon Khanna ,Tejeshwar Singh, Dr. Narottam Puri (Sports news), Komal GB Singh, Minu Talwar, Neethi Ravindran and many more DD news readers had their share of fame during their respective times. News was still classical news without opposition from crowd sourced data.
Prannoy Roy of The News Tonight and The World This Week fame led the first change with NDTV 24x7. A sense of liberation from DD News led to higher respect for neutral news, in action straight from the events’ field. At the turn of century, Aaj Tak, from India Today Group, led the first vernacular change in Hindi TV News journalism under leadership of SP Singh known as revolutionary Hindi journalism identity creator. He is still remembered as moderate, practical, individual with a profound empathy towards others as symbol of his charisma. News anchors were yet not breathing fire, the sort of hostile verbose missiles we see today. Perhaps the ethical news market was not haemorrhaged with losses given the proliferation of TV channels on the fuel of cash money, allegedly from corporate, real estate, politicians and other sources A new imperative evolved in journalism i.e. ‘Hourly Rush for TRPs’ to engage viewers and attract ‘advertising investors’ for ad revenues. Unlike English & Vernacular print news which largely continued to command respect, all TV journalism in vernacular grew faster on the levers of speed, live action, debates, panel discussions, innovative programming, election campaigning, and results, local news esp. crime, and astrology. Traders and SME businessmen loved Hindi and regional language news. Their viewership recruited many ‘first time advertisers’ for whom their product or service TVC on prime TV News was an achievement by itself. They could build their brands and business due to lower advertising rates than the more elitist English news aimed at affluent Indians. With mainstreaming of aggressive English channels, what followed in vernacular too changed the news in India like never before. Purist may not like but aggression in TV news transformed it to spectacular content. Unknowingly it perhaps started competing with other entraining action thrillers and at broader level all engaging content.
Unrestrained language & tonality, decline in news vocabulary, obviously fixed and paid debaters on prime time esp. retired armed forces leaders from Pakistan & India, political ‘spokesperson to shoutperson’, blazing TV news screens, and news commanders started dominating our share of mind and heart.
TV journalists built their towering careers on Kargil, Terrorism, Mumbai Blasts, Gujarat Riots, Elections, Natural disasters, Surgical Strikes, Scams, Big economic events like Demonetisation and GST. They were celebrated and leveraged as ‘prime time assets’ by their news channels. They were also called Channel’s ‘Brand Ambassadors’ as channels had to find competitive ‘face differentiators’ for different time slots. ‘The Great Sprint for TRPs’ & hunger led to loss of many anchors’ integrity revealed in Nira Radia tapes controversy. Commercialised pseudo-patriotism now blurred with true-nationalism engaged changing India in larger numbers.
New Labels for New Corporate Media
It is interesting to decode the new tags spontaneously associated with media esp. TV News. Expressions like ‘pressitutes’, ‘bastardisation of media’, ‘they-are-all-sold-out’ are often used in everyday conversation with unwavering belief. Veterans blame on decline in education and value system. An appendage of mass communication, with roughly designed journalism syllabus possibly could not cope with business pressures of times. With high turnover of editors, writers, street reporters turned anchors, frequent poaching of news room troopers, loss of legacy editor-mentors in news rooms and rise of media sharks as new role models, quality of talent per se became an industry acknowledged issue. Inability of many news channels to attract or retain talent can be judged by the class of people & thoughts on TV screens these days. In its defence, news continues to believe itself as the mirror of society. Declining viewer’s preferences is also attributed as the key reason to serve them poor quality of news. Sounds quite filmy and flimsy. The fact remains that news reporters and editors cannot absolve from the responsibility of ethical codes in journalism.
News: A Sub-set of Big Content Data
In the omnipresent, dominant digital era, one is now attracted to call the ever-expanding universe of information, education, entertainment, communication and media engagement on internet as Big Content Data. Unlike in the past, when professionals generated news for legacy media, now anyone with a smart phone & notebook PC is potentially a news reporter or a Facebook News feeder. Besides controversial apps like UC Browser, today we have quite a few successful and not so successful apps like inshorts, knappily, opeddiction, flipboard, First Post, Dailyhunt, NewsDog, Jio XpressNews, and newsbyte, khabri, awesummly, startupnews etc. Line extensions by legacy media like BBC News, Dainik Bhaskar, CNN News, NY Times, MSN News, Google News and Weather, Yahoo News Digest, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed etc. add to an already cluttered news market.
Truly, news consumer is the proverbial king now and so is the Big Content Data. With sharper generational division, TV News will be more seen as elders’ medium in future while online, including social media, will be enjoyed more by younger audience in 18-24 and 25-34 years age groups; increasing number of watchers would continue to love ‘all types of audio-videos, images’ to elicit the desired ‘new news’ while dwindling number of readers will prefer web pages and print. Difficult to say till the next tech wave hits us with Bigger Content Data but news as we read or see today will surely not be the same.