August 13, 2010

Where are the reporters?

One of the best essays questioning the credibility of reporters is the one titled Reporters and Parrots by Peter Norvig. In this essay he highlights the most important thing that all reporters must to do, which is to think. Sadly thinking is the only thing that most reporters do not do, they are masters of everything else.

Running the Moss Tool on News Articles

If you look at most of the news articles, you see that the content is the same. I guess this is pretty evident on the success of google news which can easily identify the primary story of a news article and show you tons of other sites showing similar stuff. If a CS professor were to run moss he would have rejected most of the news articles for lack of authentic content.

As the reporters do not think, the presentation of the content also has to be similar. One of the best spoofs that presents the template of any news item was given by Newswipe. You just need to add the content what a PR firm gives you and voila you have a news item that can be bombarded on humanity for the next 24 hours!

How hard is thinking?

The eagerness to show that they were the first ones to have their hands on a particular content shows how less the reporters think. I wonder how many of the news channels have a copy of wikileaks content? How many know that the content is 3.8 GB of war logs? How many Indian reporters actually read even one log of the 35 logs mentioning the ISI? Do they know how many articles mention India? It takes a wget, tar, and a grep command to get all the information you need. But I wonder how many reporters actually did this before jumping in the bandwagon of being the first to point fingers at the ISI. Sadly this takes effort of one night to do. It is not the same as getting a copy of the speech written by a bureaucrat and read out by creatures who have reversed the process of evolution to transform from a human being to an inanimate rubber stamp.

The lack of thinking also shows how deep the marketing and PR firms have penetrated the fortress of journalism. The reporters are just vomiting the content fed by the PR firms. In my previous post of Common Wealth Games I gave an example of the following two interview clips. The reporter in question is one of the few reporters for whom I have (or had) a lot of respect. The preparation for the interview was minimal and she was satisfied by answers for which even a 6 year old kid would find flaws. Her expressions and her nods show her willingness to not think. Also have a look at what is being flashed in bold. In this case it is pretty evident that they are flashing what Kalmadi Inc want to be shown, i.e., "Perception of India is very good abroad" and "All we have done is transparent". The mascot in the background shows how much pain Kalmadi Inc have gone through to ensure a perfect setting for a nice 10 minute ad to show everything is fine and pure as the river Yamuna flowing from Delhi to Noida.

As Peter Norvig mentions, good reporters are extremely important. They are so important that one of the first things done by the great freedom fighters was to setup a press; the Kesari and the Harijan newspapers are the best example of this. Sadly given the current state of reporters and journalism, it will take a miracle to save journalism from reporters who have sold her to the pimps in the PR firms.


Siddharthya Swapan Roy said...

A most wonderful essay. Very succinctly put and the subject matter is bang on target. The shallowness of commercial media is taking a toll on the democratic values which were so deeply enshrined in India. The bombardment of sensationalism is numbing the readers by the minute to the horrors of hunger, death, unemployment and other evils. Viewers relish prime time morbidity and revel in the shock, even if they pretend to be concerned.

I congratulate Ashwin for such a nice post.

AthouEghtsN said...

Good article