'In a future where newspapers are gone, the public will have a severe lack of material to be properly informed.'
'We will be left in a world of journalism that is entirely populated by Arnab and anchors like him, competing on the basis of passion and anger, and by people who pull out their phone and tweet a comment without first hand information,' says Aakar Patel.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
The media itself has been in the news in the last few days.
First, India's most popular English journalist quit his position as anchor of a pathbreaking show. Arnab Goswami decided to end a decade in which he reformed the way journalism in India is done.
He did this not through reporting, but anchoring. The editor of the Indian Express made a terrific speech a few days ago in front of the prime minister in which he referred to 'selfie journalism.'
He described this as journalism with the camera faced towards the journalist rather than the world. Goswami was the pioneer of this style, at least in India, and its best exponent.
His channel had a small viewership as all English channels do. And it was not particularly big commercially because newspapers still generate much more money than news channels do. But it was influential because urban upper classes watched him.
It was because of this that the stories that Arnab spoke most passionately about, such as slogan shouting in Jawaharlal Nehru University, and the murder of a socialite's daughter, could be totally irrelevant for most Indians.
The issues of poverty, illiteracy and hunger did not make his show: His concerns were Pakistani terrorism and surgical strikes.
It is true that his unbalanced harangues damaged his country, but it is also true that he was very good at what he did.
So why did he quit?
Perhaps he was disgusted by what he had done and wanted no more of it. It was reported that he wants to own a channel. If this is true, I hope he recognises that the forum is important for a journalist.
Many people who have been popular in one place have flopped in another. Glenn Beck was one of Fox News Channel's biggest stars before he started his own venture which is failing.
Anyway, good luck to him and I hope he does reporting on the issues which actually affect Indians.
The second story was the government imposing a one day ban on another news channel, NDTV, for reporting some information which the government says was sensitive and threatened national security.
This was concerning an encounter which was being covered live by many channels. Reports suggest that the NDTV coverage was not really as damaging as the government suggests.
The Editors Guild put out a statement comparing the one day ban to Indira Gandhi's Emergency in which media was heavily censored.
We do not yet know how damaging the coverage actually was and viewers know NDTV to be usually a cautious and conservative channel. But I can say that television news coverage in general has become dangerous.
It is reckless because the investment in terms of airtime is not on reporting but on commentary. And the comment begins as soon as a story breaks, meaning before the material has been fully examined and digested.
That is the nature of the TV medium and unfortunately things will not change.
The third thing in the news was a report describing the way in which the Indian Readership Survey is being conducted.
This is a huge exercise in which lakhs of people are polled on which newspapers and magazines they read.
The survey has not been published in the last couple of years after there was a controversy over the numbers.
Many newspapers showed declining or flat readerships, which is, of course, a trend in the west where newspaper readerships and revenues are falling rapidly.
My guess is that the survey, if and when it comes out, is likely to show that the trend has also affected Indian publications. Magazines here are already facing severe pressure and newspapers will follow soon.
To me this is a great tragedy for this country. We have an environment where TV is not interested in serious journalism. And it is not equipped to do reportage as a newspaper is.
Social media to me is not a substitute for what newspapers do. Full time reporters writing about beats with contacts and experience on the field cannot be replaced by millions of people sending out 140 character observations.
In a future where newspapers are gone, the public will have a severe lack of material to be properly informed.
If the transition to a newspaper-less world happens soon, I worry that there will be no proper medium left to pick up the space newspapers are leaving behind.
We will be left in a world of journalism that is entirely populated by Arnab and anchors like him, competing on the basis of passion and anger, and by people who pull out their phone and tweet a comment without first hand information.
It will be a frightening world.
This column was written before the government decided to keep the November 9 blackout of NDTV on hold until the channel re-presented its case.