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The walls that divided journalists and news consumers are crumbling. Blogs, videos, social media posts, etc. now disseminate news too, isn’t it?

Unlike in earlier times when news updates could be got only through the next day’s newspapers or inthe later times once it flashed on the television screen post editorial approval, news is now available to us 24×7 in raw. Moreover, it is available in the format we may prefer: text, video, audio or images.

This has not only changed the face of journalism but has also brought in the challenges of fake news. Every entity has been faced with this challenge, including the journalistic institutions themselves. Certain journalists have complained that a period of what is called as ‘post-truth’ has started.

The moralities of journalism have seemingly changed with concepts like “nationalistic journalism” or “journalism for justice” gaining greater ground, putting what was told to us as the fundamental principle of journalism, neutrality, into peril. Many journalists are now divided into ideological or political groups and opposite sides often accuse each other of being complicit in spreading manipulated news or propaganda and not practising ‘true journalism.’

Journalism is that which keeps us informed on news that impacts us & shapes our world. We form our opinions based on it. Evidently, it has the power to make or bring down establishments.We can see that the rules &the nature of the traditional pillar of the fourth estate of democracy have changed now and have come into debate.

What we must ponder is, for the better or for the worse? We must identify the problems to be able to discuss the solutions. First, we must make sense of what is going on in the world of journalism in this century.

In April, 2021, we debated “21st Century Journalism” on Golmej.

Wondered about the difference that happened between being called a ‘journalist’ and now being called ‘the media’? The story of how journalism transformed from being just a profession to now an industry, a greatly competitive and commercialized one that, was discussed. Naturally, this brought the aspect of the changed economics and financial, funding models of media houses and its impact into talk.

It is important for journalism to bring all sides and perspectives of all topics, especially those of public importance, to the consumers along with a right analysis explaining to the common person the effects of certain events on them. The extent of efficiency of the journalistic institutions of the country in doing this implicate on the standing of a country in the world.

The topic drives into complication when we consider journalism with public need and public interest. At times, public need would require the media to communicate information in simplistic ways and at other times, in great technical detail. At times, public interest would actually require media to conceal certain information that can potentially adversely affects it, such as at times like terror attacks, riots & financial emergencies. Then drawing the line between public interest and undue manipulation becomes subjective and thereby difficult.

The panelists inclined towards disagreement on the shift from the principle of neutrality of today’s media. What we see today is lack of entire fact-based reporting. They expressed hope that political interference with the media today being minimized to ensure that.

Traditionally, it has been considered an important duty of journalists to verify information published, endeavour to dig out the truth of stories and present it to the consumers. This responsibility appears to have been rendered lesser important today in the rush of sensationalization to attract eyeballs and for greater TRPs which in turn attract better financing.

This current functioning model of the media has got incentivized through greater viewership received on sensationalized & opinion-based reporting from people who only like to watch what aligns with their opinions and through the funding models of the media houses. It has also got greatly influenced by political power-play.

As a cumulative result, we now see a rise of more celebrity-journalists. We also see the rise and fall in power of some of them that can be seen in direct connection with the politics-economics connected with it.

Now, the opinions presented by celebrity-journalists often become ‘popular’ opinions to have among masses or come to be consumed as facts. This is affecting independent individual thought-processes of people. On the other hand, independent journalists, unaligned with big houses are increasingly becoming popular, drawing some hope towards a news supply free from political and predominantly commercial influence.

Having discussed this, the panelists didn’t forget to consider that opinionated ‘journalism’ is not an entirely new phenomenon. In India, for instance, we have witnessed journalism with the objective of narrative building for creation of national solidarity and awareness during the British Raj.

They also talked about how the media itself is the source from where people now know the challenges in today’s journalism and can identify how things can be done better.

The question was, does this 4th pillar of democracy, today itself need to exercise greater accountability to the public? With the coming in of the social media, the answer appears to have come as a yes with the common people extracting this accountability by questioning journalists and their working.

What could perhaps be the most intriguing development in the media world today, is the news supplied to consumers through smart phone applications, which use the consumer’s data to decide what news to provide them. This often means that the supply is of those kind of ‘news’ that align with the consumer’s ideology or opinions. Once there is demand, the supply machines start at it too.

Social media and internet technology by itself has come to almost deeply influence all the journalism in our country today. The concern this brings in is the interference of the ‘Big Tech’ in the political, among other, systems of the country through manipulation and swerving of opinions which journalism likes to do and in the process of enabling itself this doing for its commercial interests, the flags of data privacy of people have risen.

While there are these challenges before the 21st century journalism, there are a number of journalists who are setting high benchmarks for the profession and in social interest. Moreover, the challenges before today’s journalism are holding up a mirror to our own society. If we do not like what we see, we know exactly what to change.

Golmej believes in deliberations on topics that affect us. So, as the country reels under the second COVID wave even as vaccinations are rolled out, we decided to debate “Vaccination: Economics, Politics and People” for the month of May. 

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