In an era of profound distortion of news and storytelling, the most pertinent question that is being asked is; ‘what is News now’? Notwithstanding the debatable facts, the fact remains that we are witnessing new trends and upheavals in the media industry particularly transformative issues in the business of news.
Today we are facing an increasing focus on the intersection of media, technology and social change. There is more digitized news environment today than it was ever. In the new-era of disruptions and transformations of news, the stories themselves have become engine of revenue generation and have led to the commercialization of news.
The news is no more mere information these days and it comes in wrappers of layers of sugar coatings. The transformative issues shaping the news industry are Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and digitization that are dominating the news scene.
News these days has entrenched itself deeply into our memory that comes from the prism of policymakers, tech platforms and amateur news gatherers and its processors.
In such an environment the question is being asked, when such players have entered into the business of news, then where is any place for the news bread journalists who have climbed the ropes of journalism the hard way?
India has some unique story to tell on the subject of transformative issues facing the news industry. In the 2014 General Election, the digital media for the first time emerged as a force to reckon with in India. The medium was employed aggressively by the winning party to woo the voters that constituted nearly 37 per cent of urban voters and were connected to some form of social media. This new and relatively revolutionary platform created a whirlpool of information campaign that swung the election in favor of one side.
In this era of digitization of news the proliferation of fake news has become a dangerous trend. There are some Websites that have made a successful business model out of distribution of false news stories with catchy and provocative headlines. A news item that showed images of number of Hindu temples being removed from the roads for encroachment had the caption 'temples are being destroyed in India'.
This news contents got further momentum when it was shared by some of the diehard radicals. Even though it was debunked as fake news later on but the damage was done. Even today such false stories continue to be in circulation to appeal to the raw sentiments of right-wing popular narrative.
Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are the biggest platforms in India, that plays a big role in circulation of fake news. In Jharkhand three innocent men were beaten to death by an angry mob that wrongly believed those men were human traffickers, based on a simple WhatsApp message, they received on their mobile phone.
Similarly, a screenshot from a local feature film showing a woman being molested was peddled as news with the caption 'Muslim man molests a Hindu women'. But for quick rebuttal by Tec savvy netizens, this could have led to communal tensions and violent incidents.
Similarly, when India lost a cricket match against Pakistan in June 2017 a video went viral that showed some Indian Muslims celebrating Pakistan’s victory. However, when those videos were verified all except one from Kashmir was found to be genuine. But then the damage was done targeting the Muslim community of India as anti-nationals.
In this heap of fact and fiction masquerading as news, the consumer of news is unable to separate the chaff from the grain. This is because the fake news, paid news, has proliferated immensely. The biggest challenge before the news readers or news viewers is how to decipher “What Is the News”?
While this is one trend dominating the news industry, the other is; many emerging issues that are knocking at the doors of newsroom is unable to make news. Killing of the news for the sake of accommodating news that catches the eyeball has become a big trend both in broadcast and print media industry these days.
In the business of news, the commercialization of news content for revenue generation is another disturbing trend. The electoral malpractices of paid news and coverage packages are a new trend that has come to the notice of press guild of India. It has found a few media houses engaged in in leveraging political and economic content for overt and covert revenue generation.
Another growing trend is the rapid erosion of the demarcation among journalism, public relations, advertising and entertainment. This phenomenon is attributed to rampant growth of media industry due to the convergence of news media, entertainment and telecom industry.
Breaking news is yet another trend these days. As eyeballs are more important to establish the size of readership or viewership, journalistic ethics are being sacrificed. The content is approved for broadcast without cross checking and verifying the relevant facts in the mad rush of breaking news.
In this, the method of ‘sting-operation’ is being practiced disregarding journalistic and media norms. There is a raging debate in India that how unrestrained reporting is robbing the moral quotient in news gathering.
In order to understand all these transformative issues shaping the news industry today, the East-West Center at Hawaii is organizing a Media Conference in Singapore from June 24-27. Hundreds of media professionals are gathering there to look at new-era trends and issues in the business of media and the news itself.
[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He is invited to attend the media conference in Singapore from June 24-27. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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