Redefining What Makes News

IN Media Practice | 03/09/2002
Redefining What Makes News

Redefining  What Makes News


Dasu Krishnamoorty




A drought, worst since 1987, hit 321 of 593 districts in the country. Has any editor toured at least a part of this parched earth? Why should they? There is no conflict there.


We read news in newspapers every day, watch it on the TV and some of us still switch on the radio to know what is happening around us. News thus becomes a frame through which we see the outside world, judge communities not known to us and accept or reject issues. If you sit and reflect you will realize that what food is to the body news is to the mind. If bad food harms the body, bad news too does the same thing. But in journalism bad news is good news. Do we, as consumers of news, have the right to decide what we should read in the same way, as consumers of food have to choose what food they eat? Doubtful.


In an economic sense, news is a paradox. News is the only product you can buy at a price far less than the cost of its production. When you pay Rs.50 for a 200ml. toothpaste tube, the quantity and the price remain the same for a long time. But news space offered to the reader changes in size every day though the price is the same. In another respect too news is different from other consumer products. News is not a commodity, though today¿s trend is to produce and market news as any other consumer product. Let us see if the reader has a right to determine the quality and quantity of news offered to him every hour, every day.


At all desks and bureaus, a news process is at work that evaluates information for use as news. By applying a set of news values to every item of information that pours into their office, these desks and bureaus directly define what is news. In short, they decide what you should read and what not. This is the bone of contention between media owners and readers. I am using the term readers to include all media audiences. Ask yourself whether you need all that overkill about Ravi Kant Sharma or Sharda Jain only because they are a case of low doings in high places. Can you tell the media owner "No sir, what we need is news about the voiceless majority and not crime in elite circles."


If editors carefully read the letters columns, they will find a gap between what the readers expect of them and what actually they deliver. There is now a clamour both in our country and abroad for a redefinition of news so that it responds to the concerns of the majority of the people and not the elite minority that controls both economy and the media. The death of Dhirubhai Ambani showed the clout of the market over the media, TV as well as print.


Sponsored textbooks have perpetrated wantonly nebulous, fuzzy and even trivial definitions of news. ¿Man bites dog¿ and ¿bad news is good news¿ belong to this category. Such definitions have no room for P.V.Narasimha Rao or Atal Behari Vajpayee¿s visits to the United States. This aberration is not the monopoly of the American press but also an affliction that visits our press too often. A Clinton or Bill Gates visit is enough to deprive our media of a sense of news priorities. When the late Hansie Cronje got into match-fixing trouble, every leading newspaper in the country published an average of 50 stories in the first week of the scam. This was when a cruel famine was devastating Gujarat and Rajasthan.   


Thomas Winship of Boston Globe (Nieman Reports, Spring 1987) complains that "the press half covers some of the biggest stories of all time chiefly because it operates under an outdated definition of what is news. Newspapers can no longer stay hung up on traditional definitions of news."


According to the Times of India (Current Topics, 1 March 1987), "part of the problem is the elitist antecedents, class biases and urban orientation of news gatherers and processors. But much of the problem has to do with the definition of news. A slow brewing social phenomenon rarely excites the newsman or the editor or even the reader. For example, most newspapers highlight as they must

Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More