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Business News/ Opinion / Online-views/  Journalism’s tech divide

Journalism’s tech divide

Journalism production and consumption now have a digital divide that is also partly a generation divide

So will some jounalists’ universe shrink to tapping Facebook and following those on Twitter? Photo: BloombergPremium
So will some jounalists’ universe shrink to tapping Facebook and following those on Twitter? Photo: Bloomberg

The vocabulary is changing and becoming more loaded. Print and TV journalists are now called legacy media. As opposed to being part of the expanding digital dawn.

New digital properties emerged over the last year and claimed mind space. Indian start-ups of international media sites such as Quartz, Scroll and The Huffington Post, India Today’s, Raghav Bahl’s new venture Quitillion Media, and at one end of the conceptual spectrum, P. Sainath’s People’s Archive of Rural India. Other ventures helmed by legacy media journalists who are out of jobs will see the light of day this year if the funding comes their way.

Journalism production and consumption now have a digital divide that is also partly a generation divide. The vocabulary is different. One side creates hashtags and podcasts and talks of tweet storms, selfies and apps. It goes to Buzzfeed to see what’s new, and attempts journalism that is data-driven using a variety of Internet tools. It is partial to spoofs which hit home harder than mere facts or straight comment. On Buzzfeed, the Twitter handle gareebaadmi is doing a funky take on poverty: “Computer to kya, mere gharmein windows bhi nahi hain.’’ (Why talk of computers, I don’t even have windows in my house.) And, “biscuit khaneka man kar raha hai, chalo blood donate karaate hain." (I feel like eating biscults—let me go donate some blood.)

The other side still uses straight reporting in plain English or Hindi or Marathi to produce a daily miracle in newsprint of a more diverse, solid news and commentary package than the digital platforms. Which then proceed to “curate" these. It breaks the stories that can then be spoofed. The closest the journalists here get to digital tools is scanning Facebook and Twitter and aspiring to selfies with the Prime Minister.

Then there is anchor-driven television continuing to do what it’s been doing for a decade now, substituting studio talk for reporting and whipping up a storm of nationalism at the slightest provocation. Their bow to new media comes from soliciting tweets as response.

They also get spoofed on YouTube for consumers of new media.

Legacy media outfits that can see the writing on the wall now have heads of digital development to strategize for a Web future. Together, with editorial, they will fix the buzzwords for new media journalism this year: curate, digitize, use metrics, engage.

What of old fashioned journalism’s future?

The grimmer things get in some parts of the real world, the more you need legacy media it seems to keep reporters on the ground. Last year, in the most dangerous parts of the world, a few even lost their lives using old journalism techniques to file for new journalism outlets such as Vice and Global Post. Here in India, as government policy changes, it is the old media reporter reading the fine print and tapping official sources who will report on what speeded up green clearances for projects in forest zones could mean for the country’s environment in the long term.

But that is changing. Of some 275 journalists and former journalists who took an online survey in November-December (on the website I run) on how they use social media, more than 60% said they use Twitter and Facebook as a news source, including finding leads for stories. So will their journalism universe shrink to tapping Facebook and following those on Twitter? Particularly as news budgets get cut?

If the future of journalism going to be increasingly about technology, will the preferences of media consumers who barely consume news online count? How will these be tracked? On Nieman Journalism Lab’s list of predictions for what will shape journalism in 2015 one contributor defined it as the challenge of “reaching readers whom we cannot friend", when media executives and journalists become increasingly dependent on social media and other technology tools.

Print media houses will increasingly feel pressure from predictions of a digital future, but their own circulation figures are not indicating a doomsday scenario yet. The January-June 2014 Audit Bureau of Circulation figures for average qualifying sales compared with the figures for the previous six months in 2013 showed an increase for most major regional language and Hindi dailies, the exceptions being Dainik Jagran, Ananda Bazar Patrika, Lokmat and Amar Ujala, which recorded some losses in circulation. The English newspapers that showed decreases in circulation were The Hindu, The Times of India and The Hindustan Times, the only ones to figure in the list of the top 20 circulated dailies.

But old media will increasingly be kept on its toes by new media. The digital public will do its own media watch. December saw the launch of, a right-wing baiter of allegedly liberal media. Apart from a report on the site that reminds you of all the times when Subramanian Swamy was right in the last two years, it has a mailer that does a story-by-story rebuttal of mainstream news stories over the last year. On bringing back black money, good governance day, the size of the Prime Minister’s office and so on.

Finally, if journalism is increasingly going to be about new media-savvy techniques, what will that do to the government’s new plans to regulate how journalism will be taught? The Narendra Modi government is reportedly seeking to enforce a curricular framework for journalism teaching establishments across the country. So that the profession can learn to better serve the nation.

Sevanti Ninan is a media critic, author and editor of the media watch website She examines the larger issues related to the media in a fortnightly column.

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Published: 08 Jan 2015, 12:58 AM IST
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