Now into my third week in Delhi, the story illustrates one of the stark differences between Indian and U.S. media. It is still surprising to me as a journalism professor that both the mainstream and alternative media in India have yet to reveal the woman’s identity. Most informed Indian journalists know it, as well as those of her father and the “friend” who was driven from her side the evening she was raped. But the media here have dutifully withheld names in large part because Section 228A of the India Penal Code prohibits the release of rape victims’ identities.
The British media have released the name, and a Delhi-based wire service reporter I had coffee with recently shared “the name” with me, but so far no Indian news outlets, websites or social media have divulged the victim’s name or that of her family or friend. And the journalists I’ve talked with here generally agree with the policy, seeing it as a propriety issue — lest people would think less of a woman who was raped, regardless of the criminally violent circumstances.
After two-and-a-half weeks I still don’t get it. But at least I’ve stopped demanding explanations.
Even Mr. Magoo, as I call myself when I’m clearly beyond my depth, can recognize that I’ve reached an unyielding obstacle.
In other ways the Indian media bear great similarity to U.S. media. India has more national cable news networks catering to the Indian audience – four in English and four in Hindi. They pick one story and run 24/7 coverage of it for days on end until the next what-a-story finally goes viral and dethrones it. One CNN/IBN producer told me they “reduce the lemon to the bitter end.” I said that we do the same thing, although not quite to the same degree. We call it “beating a dead horse.”
I consider myself fortunate that Braveheart’s rape buzz gave way after three weeks to the recurring news peg of soldiers getting killed on the Pakistan-India LOC (line of control, what we call a border). Apparently one of the dead Indian soldiers was beheaded – a detail too gruesome to resist. Here the jingoism of the right-leaning cable TV channels had one star-host repeatedly turning from recounting details of the story to shout into the camera, “Why is India just talking?” and “When will India act?”
Given that both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons aimed at each other’s capitals, I hope Prime Minister Singh doesn’t flip on those channels for at least another three weeks. That’s when I leave the country. I forgot to bring my iodine pills and I’d hate to think what excessive doses of nuclear radiation might do to my already problematic hairline.
Like in the United States the buzz emanates from the media centers and tends to drown out stories that could have percolated up from the periphery. In fact, that’s such a common practice here and in the States, that most news organizations don’t even bother to send reporters to the periphery looking for stories, except to cover stories that have gone viral, like when rancher Robert Krentz was murdered on his ranch some 50 miles from the Mexico border.
Because I’m consulting with a multimedia journalism program in Delhi, I’ve had a to meet all types of journalists, including webmasters and web entrepreneurs. As in the United States, some of the most frequented journalistic websites are using WordPress, which appears to be earning its place along with Google, Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop as a de facto “killer app.”
The websites that have large backend staffs writing computer code may struggle quickly implementing design changes, encouraging interactivity and migrating content to mobile. WordPress has widgets that rework content for India’s ubiquitous mobile phone population. In 2012, more Indians accessed the Internet via mobile than with computers, according to Internet trend tracker Mary Meeker.
India’s journalistic webmasters also report that angry right-wing respondents tend to overrun the comment spaces on their websites, just like in America. There’s research that says the same is true in the United States, and even in Serbia, but I’ve seen nothing saying why that is the case, even though it seems to be a transnational trend.
Anshul Tewari is an entrepreneurial former journalism student who started YouthKiAwaaz.com, India’s premier crowdsourced website for young adults aged 18 to 29. He started it a few years ago as a blog but Tewari now says it draws 5 to 6 million hits a month and he has hired a 16-person editorial staff and is looking to expand.
Tewari says young people don’t want to just read about issues. “Sharing is the future of online,” he said. His is a highly edited site, but that occurs in the background, according to Tewari. “To users it appears to be opinion and blogging, but on the backend, it is edited journalism.”
YouthKiAwaaz.com accepts about one-in-eight submissions, but tries to provide feedback to every blogger, including informing rejected submitters what other sites will publish their material, Tewari said.
Indian websites generally have not had success instituting paywalls, so many are struggling to break even. Tewari said his site managed to grow and fund its initial hiring efforts through use of Google AdSense, which pays a host to provide audience-relevant advertising on its website.
But a little while ago he dropped all advertising from the site and began funding the operation with what he calls “sponsored campaigns.”
That’s a funding trend that U.S. Internet researcher David Karpf says was developed by left-leaning political organizations, such as MoveOn.org. The organizations want to have more people listed on their rolls. They get more clout by counting people on their lists as members and they want to get more information on potential visitors’ tastes and political views.
Karpf said journalistic sites have also started using “A/B testing” of visitors to their websites. An NGO, such as Oxfam, will provide sponsored campaign funding to YouthKiAwaaz.com in exchange for placing an Oxfam poll or option test on the site. The NGO can test the political or social preferences of the target audience, according to Karpf. The poll information may be useful to the sponsoring NGO, in terms of the question being considered, but also in terms of the combined demographic, psychographic and political information it provides about the youthful respondents.
Tewari claims that he now achieves three or four times the revenue stream relying on with these NGO sponsored campaigns than he did with ads. Plus, the ad revenue was up and down with economic conditions and the NGOs doing sponsored campaigns give him a consistent revenue stream out over a two-year period.
Tewari is 22 years old, but seems much older in person. I thought he was at least 24.
Story by Richard J. Schaefer, associate professor, Communication and Journalism. Schaefer is in India as a Fulbright specialist scholar consulting with the AJK Mass Communication Research Centre (MCRC) at Jamia Millia Islamia University.
Schaefer, who is a co-founder of the Cross-Border Issues Group, also directs the M.A. program for the Department of Communication and Journalism, and administers an intensive journalism internship program in Washington, D.C. On his cross-border travels he often refers to himself as Mr. Magoo.
He is working in India with the faculty of the prestigious MCRC to revamp its MA in multimedia journalism curriculum. “I hope they’re learning half as much from me as I’m learning from them,” Schaefer says of the bright young staff he is assisting.
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