Not many journalists would find a job covering agriculture very interesting. Neither, for that matter would publishing houses look at a new farm title unless it promises a robust return on the investment. The flavour of the season is entertainment and yet more entertainment.
But the Vikatan group thinks differently. It has a decades-old reputation built around sharp, peppy coverage of the news in various sectors for a global Tamil-speaking audience through its flagship Ananda Vikatan. When necessary, Vikatan has not hesitated to confront authority, including stalwarts like M.G.R.
“Pasumai Vikatan” is a year-old, recently spruced up fortnightly title from the group, and it has entered a niche that few others wanted to fill. This 10-rupee all-colour magazine retains much of the verve of the Vikatan stable of publications even for this specialised coverage and has let its writers loose on the countryside. What they have come up with in the first two issues, is a mix of stories on good and bad crops, sustainability in farm output through organics, questions of seed politics, a “farm produce classifieds” and snippets of news. A story on solving the cooking gas problem using a system to generate methane from agricultural waste (including urban green waste) is of interest to cities as well.
Farm journalism in the mainstream media has languished for many years. Doordarshan made farm television incredibly dull, failing to exploit colour on TV. Agriculture journalism was redeemed partly in the pages devoted by newspapers to the subject. But it is only the media boom in India that seems to have now created a niche for agriculture reporting, that attracts even private media houses.
This area of journalism is still its infancy. Amazon.com has few books on farm journalism, for instance, and one title laments its decline worldwide. Evidently, in a massive agro-oriented country, it can only grow…there are many issues to be covered, starting with, perhaps, farm credit, sustainable agriculture and public health, water, energy, irrigation, agro technology, rural health, labour, quality of life and human development.
If Vikatan could use multimedia (videos and podcasts) and blogs on its website as an extension of stories and colour photography in the magazine, it could raise interest in rural affairs, enable interaction and make agriculture journalism actually interesting.
Update: This is a post on a strong piece published by Pasumai Vikatan on climate change.