Why we should not criticise the Media for “negative” news

No, I am not from the journo fraternity.

The chances are you would not continue reading this piece for two reasons:

  1. The topic does not sound sensational and
  2. Your mind is telling you either you know the answer or you don’t need to know it.

That pretty much sums it up. I can afford to write without bothering about being read. But media cannot. They write to sell so they have to be mindful of what sells. And we all know what sells because we are ones who buy it.

In order to be in a better position to judge media we need to introspect by asking “If given a choice what would we read?”An article on a plight of child labour or B. a news piece on a teenager becoming a target of a sexual assault?

A. A report on the bills passed by the parliament or B. A report on MPs using pepper spray?

A. News of a dedicated social worker passing away or B. News of a Bollywood actor getting injured?

A. News about an Indian grand master winning an international chess tournament or B News about an Indian cricketer scoring a hundred.

If the honest answer of most of us for all the questions is B, expect such items to be a part of the front page. And that’s how it is.

It is not the media that decides what will feature on the front page. It is we.

Reason?

Is a subject of research.

What I feel is that this is one of the outcomes of the info-revolution that has hit the world.

Once upon a time mail marketing was enough to generate curiosity and would result in deals even in the US. Colorful billboards would capture imagination of one and all.

But then Information Technology entered the scene. And it pervaded all aspects of life from entertainment to medicine to telecommunication to aviation and what not.

It started by mesmerizing the young minds with innovative music videos. Then Apple and computer animation happened and Hollywood started putting life into prehistoric beings, aliens (from ET to Terminator to Transformers) and of course the super heroes. Today, Google has turned every one into a one second explorer and gmail has almost killed the word email. Youtube has changed people into channels and has modified the meaning of the word “viral”. Facebook has turned the world into one big meeting place, “whatsapp” has become the verb synonym of “message” and twitter has become the official medium for the world leaders and celebrities even as the world has got used to hear it from the horse’s mouth.

One of the ramifications of telecommunication boom was the explosion in the number of electronic media channels. Even in a country like ours there are numerous news channels. Another was a burst in the number of products and services vying for the same market segment.

All this was giving nightmares to marketers of products and services alike. To reach out to the customers they not only had to advertise but also slice their spending across channels. Of course preference has been going to the channels with highest TRPs. For print media preference parameter had always been the readership.

Among all this change, something remained constant.

Man’s nature.

It retained its tendency to be bored easily and lose interest. It also retained its obsession with voyeurism, pain and suffering.

Sadly the nature of news hasn’t changed over the years.  If you go through the news of 50 years back the only difference would be the technology used by the subjects.

So there was only solution left for the news papers and news channels to remain viable: report not what people SHOULD know but what people WANTED to listen and watch. And thus give them the satisfaction of that satiating feeling “Yes I knew!”

The only sense of empirical authenticity now lies in numbers. Numbers still keep people interested more than the text does. So tell the number of rupees being spent on Kasab and they will fondly read. Filling the news with number of hours, deaths, dollars, votes, is an effective bait to get eyeballs.

Also, these days, people have acquired high regards for “human rights”. Identifying with the plight of the perpetrator and not the victims has become the new mantra to sell news. Still better ploy is to portray the perpetrator as the victim of circumstances and emerge as a true champion of human rights.

The business units that they are, (apart from being the indispensible social institution) media will always try their best to report something that can tickle our benumbed sensibilities.

So before we blame the media for being insensitive we should ask do we have the stomach for the sensitive and not just the sensational.

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