“Newspapers will be dead in five years’ time.” This is a constant comment at most of the discussions and dinners I have attended recently. “When we are consuming news-on-the-go on our smartphones, where is the space for news on paper!” is the most common argument given to support this theory. And rather than innovate and calm the reporters-on-the-run for daily stories, proprietors of papers themselves have sounded its death knell by responding in the affirmative to such doubts. Some have with certainty even outlined the print’s epitaph.
With the onslaught of technology, data availability and accessibility to gadgets where even the entry level models are smartphones are being credited as the main culprits leading to this demise. No one is willing to look within and say the fault could be ours. I am an avid newspaper reader and I will have to admit that I too am discouraged primarily due to the content provided to me. And the reason, it seems to me is not social media, but the decline of print media.
When the front page of the newspaper is a tweet by a celebrity, then why would I pick a paper to read it and not follow it on twitter! If we are discussing someone’s blog post as the burning issue of the day then why would I read badly edited opinion about the blog rather than just reading … well… the blog? Our time is limited and everything needs to serve a purpose. Papers sadly today are a mere recap of what TV showed yesterday.
I picked up a paper to read my city’s news. The paper used to be a source of news to me, which sadly it no longer is. I get to read what I have already read on facebook. I meet journalists who say they are running for a quote in reaction to a tweet and I see opinion pieces based on someone’s ‘performance’ at a TV debate the previous night.
This, the most potent medium has been reduced to a ‘He says, She says’ notice- board and I am amazed that editors somewhere feel an inactive and non-responsive notice board will survive the ample interactive options we have in hand.
Call it laziness or mere armchair journalism but a newspaper has been diminished to quotes and the quotes being printed are what all we have commented upon, vented on, shared, liked and already hooted or hissed at.
I doubt if even editors like to read their own productions the next day. Why and how would anyone think that in such a fast moving news era and forever shortening attention span, one will want to read yesterday’s stale stories today! I seriously wish for a paper that as a policy will not publish a tweet or a facebook post.
A prominent city-based journalist recently told me that city stories are done not by going into the city but watching Delhi AajTak. He argued that the channel has a specific purpose and it is serving it brilliantly. But you cannot expect an English newspaper to be a mere translation of Hindi reports. He sighed saying that the journalist in him sheds a silent tear or two when he reads the previous night’s prime time interview beamed across the city being carried as a full page transcript in a paper two days later, or a prominent politico’s tweet being used as a front page story without any follow-up!
The biggest tool at hand for any newspaper to attract is its language. Well-written articles grab our attention and have us hooked. Are organisations investing on writers anymore? I doubt it.
A friend who returned from a top notch journalism school hosted a bash for us for landing a job at a top newspaper. In six months he quit, revealing he ‘thought’ he was getting a job with an English paper but had a bureau chief and senior colleagues who couldn’t even structure a simple sentence in the language!
Journalism, as most lay folk like us understand, has always been a profession of the passionate. That’s why newspapers became what they are today. They are an integral part of lives for every word that goes into it was valued by us. It is again that time when print needs to carve out a distinct identity for itself. It needs to be a source of information not available on social media. A paper has to be different from facebook or twitter timeline. But for that, the editor too perhaps has to look beyond facebook or twitter.
Dr. Amna Mirza is Assistant Professor, Political Studies, University of Delhi