Mar 27, 2010

New 'News'

A while ago I was doing a piece of research for the BBC when I started paying closer attention to how much news format / content has changed in India in the last few years.

I've been witness to the change everyday - from the predictable Doordarshan 9 o'clock news - to the first glimpses of how slick / interesting private new channel feed could get through 'The world this week' - to engaging journalism of the early days when everything in the newly liberalized India was opening up and along came with it the influx of the first few private news channels - to splitting up of the NDTV team into splinter channels, the fight for TRPs and sensational journalism - to its current avataar where the content bears little resemblance to what we once knew of news. And so, had not thought about the extent things have changed, until recently.

During the research discussions people's reactions ranged from nostalgia about the older days to outrage at the trash that is thrown at our face and sometimes humor. Since we were benchmarking to BBC the transition from 'news' to 'new news' seemed quite stark. A few interesting snippets -

  • We have seen a general 'dumbing down' - instead of talking about the Prime Minister's outlook on the economy, news channels cover his hospital visits
  • News anchors - instead of moderating discussions, inviting views - dominate discussions, out-shout panellists. Welcome to the world of high decibel news content.
  • There is day-to-day reportage on celebrities, their whereabouts, who fought with who. As if that was not enough, even the ups and downs of Reality TV shows are regularly covered.
  • There is even something called 'fake / made up' news :) - tune into to India TV that feeds you with breaking news stories like 'end of the world in year 20xx, gateway to heaven' - I am yet to make up my mind whether to call it news or entertainment or the workings of some lunatic mind.
  • Most news programing now have regular ad breaks. Recently, I happened to catch Vinod Dua anchoring a news show and leaving the audience with his favourite bollywood track to listen to - bang in the middle of news!

This conversation between a colleague and his son sums it up quite well...

Colleague - trying to catch up with the happenings of the day, Son - Papa what is this that you are watching. Colleague- This is the news beta. They show you what is happening in the world
Son - Then why are they fighting and shouting so much?