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Friday, July 06, 2012

The Rise of Citizen Journalism in India
~~by Vikrum Dulani
Traditional Media and its failure:
If democracy is the engine that drives a society, then media must be the dashboard that indicates its health. However, the problem with Indian media is that the check engine light doesn't seem to work. It tells us that the engine is running, but does not warn us of any underlying problems. The end result is of course a complete breakdown with very high repair bills.
The primary role of media is not to amuse or entertain people but to inform and educate them. The fourth estate was not protected by the constitution to partner with the other three, but instead to monitor and indicate their weaknesses to the society. Unfortunately, our media has failed to perform its basic function, which is to serve its "beneficiaries" - the people of India.
Most media houses are now part of a bigger conglomerate, and work under tremendous pressure to cut costs and show higher earnings primarily to satisfy its investors. Some have “strategic” alliances with political parties and work directly or indirectly with them to foster their agenda (read propaganda). Paid news scandal was a clear example of this alliance. Then there is the corporate affair, which was pretty apparent in the Radia tapes scandal. This I believe has formed a Business-Political-Information complex, in which interests of a common man has no place. Not to say that all media houses are bottom line or politically driven. There are a few exceptions doing a decent job, but less and less resources are being diverted towards real journalism. And that is a problem.
Citizen Journalism and its criticism:
The credibility of mainstream media is at all-time low with Yellow Journalism never been so evident. People have started to take notice and are looking for alternatives. There are issues at the grassroots level which get conveniently ignored by the mainstream. People are still interested in these reports and reports that are well researched and expose scams. This often leads to people taking matters in to their own hands. There are numerous examples of RTI activists, freelance journalists and sometimes a common man coming in to bridge this gap.
Proponents of traditional media, often professional journalists, ridicule citizen journalism saying it lacks "quality" and "professional reporting". I don’t agree as I don't see much difference between citizen journalism and traditional reporting. A community collectively is much smarter than the so called individual "professionals”.
A community driven website does however need to go that extra mile to ensure quality is maintained. There needs to be a layer that filters out spam and rejects irrelevant content. They need to work with their contributors to bring the write-ups up to standards and at the same time be careful enough to not tamper with the original idea or content in any way. In media an Administrators role is often confused with that of an Editor.
I'm not proposing that citizen journalism will replace traditional journalism anytime soon. But it is indeed an effective alternative medium that is filling the ever widening gap.
Can there be a relationship between the two without alternate media compromising on autonomy?
Yes, if the beliefs match, then there can be spaces where the two could come together for the greater good. Will it really happen? Only time will tell.
Social Networks and the role of technology:
Some argue the need of Citizen Journalism platforms when there already are Social Networks like Twitter or Facebook.
Conversations on social media are quite dispersed, short-lived and often contain a lot of noise. These have to be aggregated and filtered to make sense out of them. Whereas, citizen reporting is more focused and issue based making it more applicable. There is a difference between the two and one is not necessarily a replacement of the other. They both need to work hand in hand.
Normally, news (content) is produced at external platforms and then shared via social media, which acts as an enabler to reach wider audiences.  But every so often news is produced at social websites (Arab Spring) and in such cases external platforms need to be flexible enough to bring these conversations back and combine them into one story. Additionally, people tend to have conversations on news content externally on social media. Platforms need to have a commenting system that pulls these conversations back to their content page to give their readers a holistic view of the issue.
India, I believe, is going through a transformation where it is becoming more awakened so to speak. Technology is playing a major role in empowering people, especially the young, who have historically been accused of being uncaring. The youth is more aware now than it has ever been. Nothing validates this hypothesis more than the historic ‘India against Corruption’ movement.
For a few decades now, we’ve lived with the “chalta hai” attitude. This norm of “this is India yaar” means "nothing can ever change here" is largely owed to the last generation, the ones that were born post nationalist movements. But, Generation Next has had enough and wants a change. This is what I call a “Revolution on Steroids”. 
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