Every writing or multimedia presentation is for the audience. Since there would be no journalism or media work without the audience and subsequently no advertisers, journalists should identify and cater their services to the audiences. But for most of the journalists, audience is a vague concept, they do not know whom they are writing for but just fulfilling their duty or responsibility to the society, if any.
Phenomenal growth and innovation in information and communication technology has created a robust media environment and access to news information has never been so fast and easy, thanks to the ubiquitous internet and hand-held devices. The recent boom in online media including news portals, YouTube channels, podcasts and news briefs, has a profound impact on the entire process of news making. While the journalists have multiple technologies at their disposal, which help in collecting and verifying information, the cut-throat, and sometimes unfair competition has left them with just gasping for additional information, and hankering after one more piece of news. This has turned the journalists to the easily available news sources, and to those which can exchange the news in monetary forms. The second variable is unknown to the journalists, however.
Reporting about the rich people, large corporations and political parties is highly rewarding for both the journalists and the media houses as the feedback might come in the form of prize, gifts, discounts, sponsored trips, and the largest, advertisement. The corporatisation of the media industry, which once considered the social service through truth and accuracy in reporting as the basic tenets of the profession, has commodified the news and other information. As a result, the news that has the potential of economic reward in the future is not missed, even by a chance. That is the reason some of the media carry a press statement even after three days – some in a hope to get an advert while some use the time space to bargain with the company to ensure the advertisement after or along with the publication of the statement. If you turn the business pages of the newspapers or related tabs of online news portals, you get such examples in abundance.
This fact tells a different story of the media why it primarily runs after the affluent people rather than the poor. Continuous support to a political party or a powerful leader might turn into a job of a consultant, or an advisor to a leader or an agency. There are plentiful examples in Nepal where journalists have elevated themselves on the political ladder rather than in the journalism.
There is a special breed of journalists, who make a significant portion in the total media demographics, who only cater their services with constitution-granted 'press freedom' to certain powerhouses including the foreign diplomatic missions. They pursue their agenda and try to propagate through the media. They do not hesitate to ask a corporate house or an embassy for a favour to make special foreign visits in the name of observation or fam-trips. However, stories of poor must be allocated a significant time and space due to human interest reason. People prefer to read and watch the stories of another human being in trouble. They might be sympathetic and announce some sort of support and charity in response to the story sometimes, however.
Most of the news of the marginalised and deprived people are not read, listened to or accessed by them, making journalism a highly unrewarding profession. Although prizes, awards, recognitions and mentions do come as sympathy to it, it carries less appeal for the advertisement. On the contrary, a lifestyle piece of a business tycoon or a celebrity would precisely cater to the taste of the advertisers and urban audience, to a great extent.
In a least-developed country like Nepal where almost all the journalists are underpaid, a significant portion of brilliant ones use the profession just as a springboard to jump to the jobs in other areas that offer better economic rewards. This has resulted in well-written press statements and impact feature stories, though. Domestic media, apart from the foreign funded channels and programmes, do not have enough resources to create impactful content every day.
Journalists should have been explaining a complex issue to the audience or analysing the consequence of the government’s steps taken for the well-being of the people as per the principle of serving the public. But many have ended up in distorting 'public interest.' They have forgotten the advocacy role of media according to which journalists should be the voice of the voiceless.
Most of the journalists are not trained on the areas they are assigned to report. Rather they learn by trial and error which makes them vulnerable to mistakes, sometimes, to blunders such as reporting that the swine-flu is transmitted to human beings from pigs. The beat reporters groom themselves over the years and gain expertise in their beat. It's not their fault because there are no training and higher education institutions that offer area specific trainings and the beats have become complex with the interlinkages to other areas such politics, business and economy, sports and business and politics, and environment, business and politics. Reporters lacking interdisciplinary understandings do not fit for the profession, if they do, they certainly will not be writing the stories the time and audience demand.
Coronavirus pandemic has offered opportunity to generate a lot of human interest stories – daily wage workers walking for days to reach their houses, poor people deprived of food and poor patients not getting the health services. There are not the stories of rich people troubled by the pandemic except the entrepreneurs. It is the destitute who bear the brunt most compared to the rich who face no obstacle in receiving the basic amenities, including the health service and food items or going for an outing.
(Dhakal is a reporter at
The Rising Nepal.@ModDhakal)