Saturday, September 06, 2014

Is journalism passe?

You wont see this article in any newspaper.

Long long ago, the only way to consume news was through a newspaper. So the newspaper appointed many people to 'report' from the ground. These reporters were the lowest rung of newspaper staff. They walked around localities, went up to police stations, hospitals and reported from there. This news was aggregated and then sorted by importance by next level reporters and editors. And then based on the space, the news was then reported to you and me the next day.  Note that anything that is so access controlled is a hallmark of a closed industry.

Take any industry before the digital revolution or the industrial revolution. Photographers were rare. Those who had access to cameras became photographers - that is pretty much it. Now with digital pictures, everybody is a photographer. See how many 4 year olds take pictures in weddings these days. With instagram, suddenly everybody is a photographer. With a blog, anybody who can write well will write. Like the printing press made it easier to own books.

In those days, only those had access to a newspaper had the moniker of a journalist. Like only those had cameras were photographers. Its like saying only those who have watches can tell the time. Today if you are on the spot of an accident or a event, you are the reporter. And that is blogs and twitter help you do. And there is no similar format in newspapers. Today, therefore, anyone is a journalist in the truest sense - if you can sit through one issue, analyse and report out and usually you will do it better than a journo who is copy pasting at best.

The middlemen school of journalists still exists. That means, you and I cannot interview a politician - especially like Rahul Gandhi whose team will script answers for you to publish. For that you need middlemen, not journalists. But if a Narendra Modi reaches people directly through social media annd other channels, he does not need middlemen journos.

Real journos report from the field where stuff is happening. They report from the boondocks where nobody goes. They report from far flung areas - not from the comfort of airconditioned rooms. They read through judgements and analyse. They work on issues and amaze us with their indepth knowledge - usually not got through plain googling. Such journalism is clearly not passe.

But nobody needs middlemen as journos - because everybody is a reporter remember and so are you!

Modi media strategy

Once upon a time there was a Manmohan Singh,
who did anything but sing
He spoke to journalists,
who wrote it all in a list...

Stupid limerick I know, but Manmohan rarely spoke to people in 1:1 interactions. I recall a friend of mine, who shall go unnamed - who happened to meet the man himself and he asked him, as any concerned urbanite would - about the scams in the country. And my friend says, the response was a "what to do". Needless to say, my friend was very inspired by Manmohans style of leadership and went on to practice it in his job by responding to everything with a "hun ki karan" (What do I do in Punjabi). That last line is obviously sarcastic. 

During the Manmohan era, a Delhi coterie had access to him or his boss or her son or her personal assistant. These people fed news to some privileged people who trotted around as journalists and then they fed the news to the people through their media channels. At a lower level, a similar set of lower level underlings did the same and so on and so forth. Does this sound like the licence raj perpetuated by the Nehru clan? Yes, it absolutely does.

Now, this journalists pool was fed and kept in good humour by these politicians by advertisements, contracts (remember Commonwealth Game Contracts), interviews, government junkets - and there will be surely be other perks on both sides which we may never come to know. This group was not happy with Narendra Modi and were very hostile to him (and that is an understatement).

Modi quickly discovered social media and reached out directly to people - no middlemen, no hangers on, no access based journalism. He had his own website, blog, facebook feeds and finally twitter. His speeches were tweeted in real time and of course, he ran a campaign in which the traditional media came in only at the fag end by which time they were just like the trailing bogies of a train.

Now, as Prime Minister he does something similar. He has completely eliminated the journalists who were just middlemen. Like the dismantling of the licence raj eliminated the companies who traded licences, these set of journalists traded news. He has put them completely out of business.

One of the first things was launch a portal. Once you sign up for it, you get a weekly newsletter. His speeches are now tweeted almost live. He takes no journalists on government junkets. No media briefings. No leaks.

He also does things that the previous leaders never did - he met a crore students in a live interaction on teachers day - that is his strength. He spoke directly to people in a beautiful speech on independence day. A leader who cannot talk has to hide. A leader can talk, does not need to hide - he reaches the people directly. Maybe they had much to hide. Maybe they were elitist. They needed access control.

While he uses social media, what the media does not realize that the role of a media as a middleman has been completely eliminated. They need to do real work on the ground to report - or like some do - wait for what he says on twitter or blog and react accordingly.

Many a ream has been written on the cribs of journalists these days, like this one...