Producing journalism of the accountable kind

Among the motivations to launch this blog was the desire to track the attitude of publishers in the mainstream media, including those in the so called new media, towards citizen rights, social trends, processes and government.

Those who have followed the media closely in the post-liberalisation era cannot fail to notice the gradual decline in public interest in the media in general. The advent of 24X7 noisy and entertainment-oriented news television, forever churning out titillating and colourful trash, and organising contrived debates on issues to generate sensation,  has put pressure on newspapers and magazines to also follow suit with their print equivalent.

To many serious readers, therefore, a grey and intellectual journal like Economic and Political Weekly appeals a lot today, while the newsprint-intensive mainstream publications that are dipping in both price and quality hold little interest.

To those journalists who long for a return of the halcyon days of the print media when the corrupt and soft underbelly of the establishment, hidden under layers of starched white clothes, was fair game, here are some contemporary thoughts from a colleague in the Western media.

The Washington Post has reported that its Executive Editor of many years, Leonard Downie Jr. is leaving on September 8. Although the mainstream media in the US has suffered a decline through the Bush presidency, and its investigative credentials rendered flaky and hollow (what has it done about Guantanamo Bay, for instance), these comments offer the hope that US newspapers will regain some of their vigour, although they may still fall short of the standards being set by alternative new media organisations in America.

Mr. Downie’s comments will no doubt appear hopelessly utopian to many Indian publishers today, as they chase advertising revenues and make common cause with the pro-profit establishment. The Indian middle classes are led by them like proverbial animals mesmerised by the consumerist and hedonistic apples that are thrown all along the way.

We cannot but agree with Mr. Downie’s comment that “the most important and rewarding journalism you could produce, regardless of platform, technology or audience, is accountability journalism.” And by accountability, he means the kind of journalism that makes the corrupt section of the establishment shake its shoes. That kind of moral courage is what gave the media the exalted status of the Fourth Estate in our democracy. Sadly, India’s media has corrupted itself so much as to become unrecognisable today.

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