To understand the world of news and its implications for us, let’s use the framework of the five key questions (See homepage).
WHO MADE THIS MESSAGE?
For understanding who creates and sends what we consume as news, let’s look at the way the newsroom is organised.
First, let’s look at print.
1. HIERARCHY DIAGRAM
2. RESPONSIBILITIES DIAGRAM
Right at the top is the chief Editor or the Editorial Director, who is typically in-charge of all the editions such as Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Delhi, in a newspaper’s stable. An edition refers to the newspaper version published specific to location.
Below her are the Resident Editors of particular editions. The Resident Editor is responsible for all that is carried in a particular edition.
Below each RE are the heads of the reporting team and of the editing team.
A print news room, that is the office of a newspaper, is divided into the reporting team and the editing team. This editing team is also referred to as the desk.
What is their job?
It is the reporting team’s job to think about story ideas, go out and get all the facts and information about the story and then to come back and write it out. After this, the desk steps in. It is the editing team’s job to check the reporter’s copy or story. It is vetted for facts and for grammar. This is the stage of verification and cleaning.
These stories are then put on to the page, that is dummy pages of the paper according to the space available. With some organisations, it is the editor’s job to do this and with others, it is the design team.
Now these are the broad responsibilities. But how are they managed? What is the process that is followed?
Usually, reporters submit their story ideas to the Resident Editor/ City Editor. These are either approved, modified or dismissed. If an idea is approved, the reporter then goes out to get her facts. In the meanwhile, the desk is informed of all the possible stories they have to work with.
On the basis of this, they come up with a tentative design of the page: which story will go where, how much space will it get so on and so forth. But all of this is dictated by how much space ads carry on any given page.
Because in any newspaper, the ad is placed first and foremost. The space that remains is meant to be used for news.
This process of story idea approval, of course, does not apply to routine and breaking stories. Stuff like accidents of a certain degree that will have to be carried or really important news like a natural catastrophe. These HAVE to be carried.
Once the story is filed, the desk takes over. Once all the stories are vetted and they are put onto the page by copy editors—each copy editor typically handles one page—they are looked at by their superiors such as the RE. With this last okay, they are sent to be published.
Now, let’s look at broadcast. This includes radio and TV, though the focus is on TV. Indian laws do not currently allow private players in the arena of news on the radio.
In a broadcast organisation, we have the reporting team and the production team. The reporting team gathers facts and footage. The production team puts it together into packages—that is the final product that we see.
Please note that this is the broad setup and designations and duties are likely to change with every organisation.
Everything depends on the visuals. If there is a visual, there is a story. If there is no visual, there is no story. The importance that is accorded to any story, similarly, is also determined by the quality of the footage and not always the gravity of the issue at hand.
TV channels are 24/7. But news flow is intermittent. So to make up for those gaps, news channels keep playing the same news over and over. To get one over the competition, maybe the third time they tell you about something, they add a question or an exclamation or sometimes, just flimsy and irrelevant details.
To fully understand the workings of any media organization, it is also important to know who owns it. That’s because it may affect the content that is delivered to you.
For example: While most news channels/newspapers covered the coal block allocation case like this, Hindustan Times covered it this way.
ONE MORE EXAMPLE
The owner may not always have such a direct stake in any news being covered a certain way. Sometimes, it is a matter of her/his political/ideological allegiance.
WHAT ARE THE CREATIVE TECHNIQUES THAT WERE USED TO GRAB MY ATTENTION?
Headlines try to tell you just what to expect from the story in one line: they try to encapsulate its contents. But at the same time, they try to capture your attention and make you read the story.
While this may work most times, there is also one odd time when they mislead.
- Photos / Footage
Can you imagine any newspaper without pictures? Photos are selected not only to help take the story forward but also to grab attention.
Take a look at the following example. Why do you think that particular photo might have been used for this particular story?
There is also the concern of privacy and ethics, in this regard.
If a story requires a photo of lets say, an accident victim, and no photo of that person could be taken by the staff photographers, is it okay to use that person’s photo from his/ her Facebook page?
A word about footage
3. Be the first to report
The news media also tries to get your attention by being the first to report something.
But do remember, that sometimes, in their frenzy to give you the news first, the news media may not always be able to verify all the information it provides. And sometimes, this can lead to inaccuracy.
If only a particular news publication or channel has some piece of information and related updates, you are more likely to turn to them.
5. News Flash/ Breaking News
A tool used by the TV media, this is meant to alert the viewer and arrest her attention. This is used particularly for high-voltage events and much drama is built around an anticipated milestone or highlight. But sometimes, this can lead to comical results.
Real-life incidents are often sought to be recreated using information that is available, however limited. This is done either using models or through animation. But in trying to inject drama, the focus can stray from accuracy.
7. Repetition and oversimplification
As we saw in the peculiarities of broadcast, news TV often resorts to repetition. And in order to make it more palatable, may add lurid details and sensationalise. Staid is boring.
Just as boring are complexities. Most issues and concerns, especially in debate shows, are reduced to black and white as that makes for more interesting TV.
Watch the Newslaundry’s take on one such week of Indian TV news:
WHY WAS THIS MESSAGE CREATED?
The motives of the news media are difficult to explain. While the news media plays an important role in democracy, and is often considered its fourth pillar, it still needs to make money to survive.
Matters are further complicated by the economic model of the press in India.
Did you know that your news supply is subsidised? That is, you don’t actually have to pay the real price: the amount that it costs to ensure that you have your news supply, whether in the newspaper or on TV.
Newsprint, that is the plain paper on which news is printed, costs between 32,000 and 36, 000 rupees, per tonne*. That is Rs. 32-36 per kilo, about a week’s worth of your supply, just for the paper.
What price do we pay for a fully printed newspaper? About Rs. 4 on average.
Remember, full cost includes the paper, the printing costs and the costs of getting the content that is printed: that is staff salary, and other operational expenses. How does this work?
Advertisers pay for this extra cost. Since we, the readers, pay barely anything for what we get, the rates of advertising in papers are maintained high enough for newspapers to be able to recover their costs.
As a result, for Indian newspapers and other similar publications, the top priority is attracting ads. Audiences are to be attracted merely to be able to sell them to advertisers: greater the number of eyeballs guaranteed, higher the chances of an advertiser paying you.
To understand this a little bit more, let us look at how publications try to sell themselves to advertisers. We will do this by looking at their media kits. A media kit is the document that is used to convince advertisers that they should buy space in a particular publication.
WHAT ARE THE VALUES, POINTS OF VIEW, AND LIFESTYLES THAT ARE INCLUDED IN THIS MESSAGE? WHICH ONES ARE OMITTED?
Now that you have seen some media kits, you will realize that the publications are trying to prove that they have a readership that has disposable income: one that can and indeed does pay for high end consumer durables.
Now, to attract and retain such an audience, the content is tailored to their preferences.
Though we pay more for magazines, the case is not very different even for them. Their cost recovery is done largely through ads.
EXAMPLE: The Campa Cola coverage v/s a slum demolition coverage
News about the lower economic strata doesn’t really matter.
Since we as TV viewers don’t really pay anything for the content we watch—Cable TV fee —TV shows including news programmes depend on advertisers for revenue.
They are interested in selling audiences to advertisers. And to attract advertisers, they need to attract audiences.
English news channels have a niche audience i.e. the rich, city dwellers who speak English.
Regional news is often considered secondary and unimportant.
The economic capacity of their audiences is different.
HOW MIGHT OTHERS SEE THIS MESSAGE?
What may seem like a very important news event to you, may seem very insignificant to someone else. This could be dictated by any number of factors such as the person’s location, interests and worldview.
So if this piece of news was of interest to, it may not have been of interest to those from in and around.
This could be of interest to someone who speaks any of these languages but not necessarily to the rest.
This could only interest those whose worldview is environmentally-skewed [CONSIDER].
But part from interest, there is the question of different perspectives. So the story cited above, may be an ill-portent of the times to come for some, but for others, it may signify a move in the right direction: progress and development.