Special: Modi, helped by new tech, has Made tra­di­tional news out­lets re­dun­dant

And Old Me­dia is yet to get it. Modi, helped by new tech, has made tra­di­tional news out­lets re­dun­dant

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - Ajay Singh

The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.” Those ini­ti­ated into english-lan­guage jour­nal­ism were asked to learn this sen­tence by rote and type it on a type­writer re­peat­edly to fa­mil­iarise them­selves with the key­board lay­out. That was be­fore the ad­vent of com­put­ers. This sen­tence (it’s called pan­gram as it con­tains all the let­ters of the al­pha­bet) was the terra firma on which a re­porter would build the ed­i­fice of a ca­reer in com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In the first month of train­ing, an English­language jour­nal­ist would fu­ri­ously type it out a hun­dred times a day to mem­o­rise the place­ment of all the keys. in due course, his or her fin­gers would move with ease and speed.

But that is an era gone by. in this age of so­cial me­dia where a smart­phone and a max­i­mum of 280 char­ac­ters are all you need to do the trick, this prac­tice of the past has be­come ir­rel­e­vant and the brown fox has be­come as lazy as the dog.

nostal­gia is of­ten noth­ing more than self-in­dul­gence that pro­vokes grandeurs of delu­sion. That holds true for the con­ven­tional me­dia which had as­sumed for it­self the role of the only chan­nel to con­duct the po­lit­i­cal dis­course. That as­sump­tion was cap­tured well by arthur Miller, the great amer­i­can play­wright, when he said a great news­pa­per is a na­tion talk­ing to it­self – a line that many papers proudly ap­pro­pri­ated as their motto and pro­claimed over their mast­heads. The me­dia called it­self the Fourth es­tate, the very soul of democ­racy. no won­der, then, that some news­pa­per ed­i­tors claimed to be hold­ing the sec­ond most im­por­tant job in the coun­try, imag­in­ing that they were shap­ing the peo­ple’s opin­ion on the great chal­lenges fac­ing the na­tion and sin­gle­hand­edly in­flu­enc­ing the des­tiny of the repub­lic.

Suf­fer­ing from this delu­sion, the con­ven­tional me­dia ig­nored the warn­ing sig­nals com­ing from tech­nol­ogy, which was rapidly open­ing up other chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. and about a decade or more into the new era, it con­tin­ues to keep its head buried in the sand, bliss­fully ig­no­rant of its re­dun­dancy while the na­tion prefers to talk to it­self through a va­ri­ety of new medi­ums and plat­forms.

About a decade or more into the new era, the old me­dia con­tin­ues to keep its head buried in sand, bliss­fully ig­no­rant of its re­dun­dancy as the na­tion talks to it­self through a va­ri­ety of new medi­ums and plat­forms.

noth­ing il­lus­trates it more clearly than the man­ner in which prime min­is­ter naren­dra Modi has been us­ing a host of un­con­ven­tional chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion to reach out to the masses and de­liver his mes­sage. of late, he has used tech­nol­ogy to talk di­rectly with farm­ers, ben­e­fi­cia­ries of cen­tral schemes and up­com­ing en­trepreneurs of digital in­dia. The ease with which his au­di­ences, largely com­pris­ing com­mon peo­ple, have been in­ter­act­ing with the coun­try’s top po­lit­i­cal ex­ec­u­tive is fas­ci­nat­ingly ef­fec­tive. It is al­to­gether an in­no­va­tive way of es­tab­lish­ing con­nect be­tween the ruler and the ruled.

granted that much of the dis­cus­sion hap­pens in a con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment, but its pos­i­tives can­not be ig­nored when an or­di­nary wo­man in Raipur gets a chance to speak di­rectly to the PM and nar­rate her en­tre­pre­neur­ial jour­ney. sim­i­larly, farm­ers liv­ing in the re­motest parts of the coun­try get con­nected with the PM via 50,000-odd com­mon ser­vices cen­tres (cscs) spread across the en­tire coun­try. in one go, he reaches out to mil­lions through his naren­dra Modi app apart from his so­cial me­dia plat­forms.

Mean­while, the con­ven­tional me­dia is yet to wake up to the irony of the fact that it has to go to these sources for the news for the day.

The PM’S lively in­ter­ac­tions with hoi pol­loi do cre­ate an im­pres­sion of a frank and open po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue di­rectly with peo­ple who mat­ter in elec­toral terms. not only com­mon­ers, even to talk with the crème de la crème of so­ci­ety, the old me­dia is hardly the pre­ferred mode of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Take for in­stance the closed-door meet­ing the PM had with the top chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cers (CEOS) of cor­po­rate In­dia in Mumbai in June in which he ex­plained his gov­ern­ment’s eco­nomic policies to them and sought their feedback face to face – which would en­sure no nu­ances are lost in trans­mis­sion. He di­rectly com­mu­ni­cated with cor­po­rate hon­chos to let them know about the gov­ern­ment’s ex­pec­ta­tions of them and the road ahead.

There is some­thing unique about this chang­ing mode of com­mu­ni­ca­tion to which com­mon­ers and rul­ing elites alike are adapt­ing like fish to wa­ter. it paves the way for two-way com­mu­ni­ca­tion which em­pow­ers the less priv­i­leged.

This has grossly marginalised the con­ven­tional me­dia which prided it­self on hav­ing the priv­i­lege of exclusive ac­cess to cor­ri­dors of power. The fact that a com­mu­ni­ca­tor could cre­ate an in­ter­ac­tive plat­form to send and re­ceive mes­sages with the whole na­tion demon­strates the re­dun­dancy of the tra­di­tional me­dia that thrived on its sup­posed con­nect at least with the elite. That is pre­cisely the rea­son most me­dia in­ter­views con­ducted with the coun­try’s top lead­ers, ir­re­spec­tive of their do­mains, mostly con­form to PR ex­er­cises.

Though peo­ple still love to watch ir­rev­er­ent and prob­ing in­qui­si­tion of indira gandhi by a BBC jour­nal­ist in the post-emer­gency phase, that model of jour­nal­ism is hardly rel­e­vant now.

Peo­ple no longer need an in­ter­me­di­ary to con­vey their mes­sages to the top. in the age of so­cial me­dia, a vic­tim of dis­crim­i­na­tion at the re­gional pass­port of­fice (RPO) in Lucknow could get ac­cess to ex­ter­nal af­fairs min­is­ter Sushma swaraj and get her griev­ances ad­dressed. (in the process, sushma swaraj could get trolled by peo­ple with an ante­dilu­vian mind­set who weigh sig­nif­i­cantly in nu­mer­i­cal strength. That ex­poses the hideous face of so­ci­ety and a stark re­al­ity.)

This en­tire ex­er­cise is con­ducted with­out in­volve­ment of a con­ven­tional me­dia as a chan­nel of com­mu­ni­ca­tion though it trig­gered a po­lit­i­cal de­bate. Time was when such ‘cam­paigns’ were con­ducted by the print me­dia, fol­lowed by the claims of the im­pact they gen­er­ated. now peo­ple have taken to lead­ing such cam­paign them­selves, em­pow­ered as they are by the new tech­nol­ogy. on­line pe­ti­tion­ing, for ex­am­ple, would be a more ef­fec­tive way of set­ting things right, rather than send­ing a let­ter to the ed­i­tor as used to be the case.

gone are the days when the tra­di­tional for­mat of jour­nal­ism like in­ter­views or TV de­bates was con­sid­ered the ef­fec­tive plat­forms to con­duct pol­i­tics for lead­ers. if you have any doubt, look at arun Jait­ley, who has been us­ing Face­book posts to dis­sem­i­nate his views on po­lit­i­cal mat­ters. in terms of reach, this is far more ef­fi­cient way of dis­sem­i­nat­ing views than writ­ing an op-ed or hold­ing a press con­fer­ence. in any case, the old me­dia has to willy-nilly re­port his views next day. even those less vis­i­ble on so­cial-me­dia plat­forms com­pared to top lead­ers find con­ven­tional tools of jour­nal­ism noth­ing but a means to pro­mote their ca­reer till they reach the top. The me­dia’s fa­bled ac­cess to news­mak­ers and its unique po­si­tion to carry the mes­sage from the top are grossly un­der­mined.

This de­vel­op­ment should not sur­prise any­body when the list of top ten rich­est peo­ple does not have any old-me­dia baron, and in­stead has three tech czars at the very top (Jeff Be­zos, Bill gates, Mark Zuckerberg). Be­zos’s ac­qui­si­tion of the Wash­ing­ton Post should sum­marise the whole new par­a­digm.

Modi was ahead of the curve in set­ting the agenda in the new com­mu­ni­ca­tion age. His in­ter­ac­tions with var­i­ous so­cial groups through so­cial net­work plat­forms emerged as the most pow­er­ful medium of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. even in his days as the chief min­is­ter of gu­jarat, Modi used tech­no­log­i­cal tools and con­veyed his mes­sages di­rectly to peo­ple, over the heads of the con­ven­tional me­dia like print and TV net­works. no doubt, his mes­sag­ing proved to be far more ef­fec­tive than the con­ven­tional me­dia’s rants. His eval­u­a­tion of the me­dia’s ca­pa­bil­ity can be gauged by the fact that in his new role, he has dis­con­tin­ued the prac­tice of tak­ing jour­nal­ists along on the PM’S for­eign tours which a se­lect bunch of scribes used to con­sider as their en­ti­tle­ment.

Modi was the first In­dian leader to prioritise so­cial me­dia over tra­di­tional me­dia, but oth­ers were soon to fol­low suit. shashi Tha­roor of the congress, for one, had taken to Twit­ter much ear­lier, and has more fol­low­ers than al­most all po­lit­i­cal lead­ers. His party chief, Rahul gandhi, too has of late started mak­ing news via so­cial me­dia com­ments. sev­eral chief min­is­ters, as well as po­lit­i­cal par­ties, too have joined the trend.

of course, no tears need be shed on this gross marginal­i­sa­tion of the con­ven­tional me­dia. as tech­nol­ogy bridges the psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tance be­tween the lead­ers and the led, the con­ven­tional me­dia can no longer hold on to its self-in­dul­gent nostal­gia as a mir­ror for the fu­ture. The credit will go to Modi for ex­pe­dit­ing this course cor­rec­tion. Per­haps a rephras­ing of “a quick brown fox…” will be in or­der to evolve an ef­fec­tive con­ven­tional me­dia.

This de­vel­op­ment should not sur­prise any­body when the list of top ten rich­est peo­ple does not have any old-me­dia baron, and in­stead has three tech czars at the very top (Jeff Be­zos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg).

A ver­sion of this com­ment has ap­peared on First­post.com.

Ashish asthana

PM Modi in­ter­acted with mem­bers of women self-help groups through video bridge via the Namo app on July 12

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