The business of news

At the end of a key government event held recently, (mostly younger) journalists began jostling in front of the chief minister to ask him a number of questions that were not just focused on the event.

As the mad rush for sound bites from the chief minister happened, looking at the pictures I couldn’t but help be reminded of my early days of journalism when getting that exclusive sound bite, that reaction on a person’s face, their body language was key to my reporting.

Personally, I don’t remember the last time I had covered an event scrambling for a response from someone. Now, I have the luxury of sitting on top my undeserved privileged ivory tower and pass judgment (the manifestation of which this article is).

But why do journalists do this?

Critics of the media, of which there are many, will say that journalists are only concerned with surrounding the powerful and the powers that be. While from the outside looking in it may appear so, nothing could be further from the truth.

My personal belief is that there are two reasons that journalists are always on the lookout from reactions from those in governance.

The obvious reason is that it is exactly what is expected of us from news consumers.

If, at the end of the day, we aren’t the ones asking the questions and demanding accountability from our lawmakers, who will? It is the very questions on the minds and lips of the people and the opposition that are, after all, placed to the government. Perhaps, apart from a little appreciation for the work we do, most journalists expect nothing more.

After all, that is the reason most of got into this “business” of journalism in the first place; because we were driven by the want to hold those accountable who often get away scot-free.

And that is the reason why many of us continue to stay in this “business”.

Having said that, this article is neither an indictment of what journalists should be doing nor is it a piece on what some believe should serve as our acquittal.

Along those lines, notice that the word “business” is in quotes. That is because for some of us in the news media, that is what journalism has become- a business.

For some of us, it is no longer the news value that attracts us towards journalism. Rather, it is the value of that news in terms of advertising revenue, eyeballs, likes, shares, & retweets that has brought so many players into this, what has clearly become, business.

And this shows in the work that they put out and the model of reporting that they have adopted.

News isn’t news anymore. Informing the audience in a sound manner isn’t news anymore. Even the audience is guilty of promoting this brand of news. The reason that most audiences will share news that they don’t agree with anymore these days is to fan the flames of hatred. Try writing or producing a sensible piece of news that covers all sides of an issue and it is a guarantee that it will never draw the same amount of traction that an inflammatory piece of news will. In fact, neither sides of a particular issue will share those articles or news reports because it makes the other side look sensible in their perspective.

Which is really is why we are today witnessing such unprecedented “growth” in the media landscape.

It has, after all, become a business.

Genuine news organisations, just like any hardworking NGO and self-help group, should be able to survive on the willingness of people’s generosity. But how many amongst us are willing to pay for the news?

If this article were to be put behind a pay wall, i.e., if we asked you to pay for it, how many would be willing to? Nine times out of ten, the answer would be a resounding “NO”.

And why is that?

We are willing to pay for everything else in our lives including bottled drinking water, after all, even though there is water flowing all around us. So why do we want the news to be free?

That’s a question for all of us.

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