Sunday, August 10, 2014

Knowing ‘a little about everything and nothing about anything’

The other day a few of us got discussing something on Facebook when a young mother said (unedited): “We see such low quality of reporters who come up on the main channels. In fact the print media is also no better. Just the last year my daughter had to write a piece and give to xxx Mumbai reporter who had come to report an event in their college! And the reporter published just as such without even a change in the punctuation. During the interaction it was also learnt that the paper paid the reporter a pittance… and so the old adage comes afore… "If you pay peanuts, monkeys will come flocking!"

At a journalism seminar conducted by the Press Institute of India recently, a veteran journalist-editor who handled the sessions, kept urging the participants to read more. He referred to a reporter from a top English newspaper calling him and asking him questions about a particular landmark in Chennai, the interiors of which had got gutted. When the veteran suggested he check with the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) that had been set up by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, the reporter had no clue what HCC was. In another recent instance, a reporter who had come to cover an event at the Press institute of India did not know who T.S. Krishnamurthy (one of the speakers) was. His explanation for not knowing: he had just joined the paper!

Often, we keep wondering why there seems to be such a woeful lack of knowledge today. I was reading an interesting piece in The New York Times by David Carr, which carried the headline, ‘Riding the juggernaut that left print behind’. In the article, he talks about the “unrequited bid” that Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox made for Time Warner, how both the companies got rid of “slow-growth print divisions”, and how print had “lost value in business realms because it has, in fundamental ways, lost traction with you and me”.

Referring to the appearance of graphic images and arrival of “breathless news alerts” and the “ambient feed of information (that) pulsed and heaved all around you” after the Malaysian airliner was shot down in eastern Ukraine, Carr wonders what is left for print! “I’m not so much a digital native as a digital casualty,” he writes. He relates another experience he had – on a train where “a few people around me were cursing the indifferent Wi-Fi as they desperately tried to remain tethered to the grid”. And then, Carr makes the most profound statement: “It struck me that part of the reason we always stay jacked in is that we want everyone — at the other end of the phone, on Facebook and Twitter, on the web, on email — to know that we are part of the now. If we look away, we worry we will disappear. We are all on that train, the one that left print behind, the one where we are constantly in real time, where we know a little about everything and nothing about anything, really…”

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A report on the Press Gazette website says Facebook is a more trusted news source than the Daily Star and the Sun, according to a survey of nearly 2000 UK adults. Conducted for the BBC by Ipsos MORI in February, the survey’s aim was to gauge “public perceptions of impartiality and trustworthiness of the BBC”. BBC News comes out on top with scores of 6.5 for impartiality and 7.4 for trust.  Facebook and Twitter each scored 3.9 for impartiality, indicating that social media is now an important and fairly reliable source of information.