“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Afshana looks at how far journalism has progressed in the rest of the world and wonders why Kashmiri journalism is still hostage to press releases and shutdowns

(Ms. Syeda Afshana, 34, was born in Srinagar. She attended the Vishwa Bharti High School in Rainawari, Srinagar, and the Government Women’s College in Srinagar where she received a B.Sc. degree. She completed her Master’s degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the Kashmir University in 1999 and was the Gold Medallist (first position holder) in her graduating class. She is currently a Lecturer in the Media Education Research Centre (MERC) of the Kashmir University and pursuing her doctorate on the role of internet after 9/11.)

Social reportage in Kashmir

‘It’s a revolutionary
moment in journalism.
There is room for
all kinds of
experimentation now’ (Sheila Coronel, Manila July-07)

Presently heading Centre for Investigative Journalism, Columbia University , United States , Sheila Coronel was speaking to a group of journalists during her presentation on new trends in investigative reporting.

Referring to New Journalism, she said that the power to act as information’s gatekeeper is devolving increasingly to the audience, involving their greater participation and thus breaking down the monopoly of news managers and editors. “We don’t exactly know where things are going,” she said, adding that the source of news and information is currently shaped by both the press and the consumers every second.

As such, the increased interactivity is the biggest challenge in journalism. From anachronistic snail mail to advanced email and the spread of digital mobile phones, blogs and social networking, the popularly known User Generated Content (UGC) is making deep inroads in this profession. Whether it were blogs of 9/11 or mobile phone images of July 7 London bombing, the participation of audience is turning active. The phenomenon called as Citizen Journalism which contests the idea of who the journalist is because of the makeover of the audience from being just a consumer to a producer of stories.

This is already happening abroad rigorously. In India , newspapers are faintly opening up to it. However, television news channels are encouraging this development, though the change is yet not so discernible.

Coming to Kashmir , media landscape is quite different. Things in journalism here are unusual from whatever is prevalent outside. The reasons can be many. Lack of media culture or little history of independent media combined with the political instability of the place, Kashmir is yet to earn a mention for vigorous journalism even if we may claim ‘conflict reporting’ as our proud feat. And that too just because of the ‘conflict sensitive journalism’ of last two decades that has not succeeded to move beyond just reporting the conflict than intervening to help it avert or resolve.

Additionally, with dearth of big business houses resulting in economic dependence of news organizations, and presence of somewhat passive audience, a complacent media culture is getting perpetuated. Vernacular press has stereotyped into a classic tradition of just filling the newsprint, without any serious effort to project the ground realities in-depth. As far as English press, reporting has not completely come out of the confines of ‘causalities’ and ‘press releases’. The meaningful engagement with the new technology is yet to develop. Almost all of the newspaper sites are still just online versions of the print copies. There is no improving upon online content using various software and internet technologies like podcasting and videocasting, something that is getting too imperative for journalists to exercise the world over.

As per the recent European Digital Journalism Study , blogs have become a staple part of the journalist’s newsgathering process. Among 347 journalists surveyed in nine European countries, around a quarter regularly quoted from blogs and used them to source their stories. The survey report revealed that journalists in UK are leading the way with blogging and production of video content as part of their workload.

Unfortunately, the endeavour of keeping tune with the latest innovations in this profession has not matured here so far. This can also be one of the causes for ignoring or under-reporting the disconcerting offshoots of conflict. That’s why investigative journalism too is a distant idea to stumble upon.

Again, use of social media tools is an alien concept, though the same is becoming quite popular in certain reputed news organizations world over. The BBC’s coverage of election in Turkey last year by reporter Ben Hammersley was termed as the first ‘social media experiment’ of the Beeb.

Hammersley filed his personal blog, uploaded photos to Flickr, video to YouTube , posted snippets of text to Twitter and networked with people through Facebook— the social media forums used to distribute the content and reach new and wider audience. The project was guided by the BBC’s 15 web principles, the fifth of which states — “Treat the entire web as a creative canvas: don’t restrict your creativity to your own site”.

Viewing the scenario in Kashmir , outreaching our stories to bigger audience is a less important issue in comparison to identifying and reporting the real issues confronting us distressingly.

The absolute change in our social fabric has a lot to divulge than what meets the eye. Apart from the social re-location due to calamities and catastrophes other than conflict, the upheaval because of continuous turmoil is very critical. The Social Dimension of conflict is the worst hit part of overlooked reportage. Rising crime and daily offense is not reported beyond mere stats and eyewitness accounts, if any. Mutations in social structures, engineered or otherwise, have not been exposed beyond headlines and quotes.

The reportage that entails in-depth investigation, explanation and, of course, a point of view is missing. Digging out the motives and meanings behind the events has slipped out in the daily drama of conflict and struggle, which is invariably becoming a commonplace thing to highlight and report here.

Repercussion of such ‘reportage-maltreatment’ may not be clearly perceptible right now, but the precarious undercurrent is already set in. Just watch out the City Page for abductions, disappearances, rapes, and murders. Half-widows and orphans are fading out.

Revolutionary moment in our journalism is yet to arrive!