A journalist must look at a story from all angles
Of late, there has been quite a lot of brouhaha over the decline of traditional journalism and the rise of online media.
The challenges facing the profession of journalism are several: First, there are the online news portals which bring breaking news to people when an event happens. So, we do not wait till the morning to find that there has been a radical attack in some part of the world.
The detailed report comes in the newspapers the following morning but, the truth is, almost everywhere, newspaper readership is either stagnant or is rising at a very slow pace. Just after independence, Bangladesh Observer had a readership of around 80,000; today, all English newspapers combined will find it tough to cross the readership almost 48 years ago.
Online media has taken up much of the readership of papers though newspapers still hold a place for opinion pieces, analyses of local and world events, and investigative journalism. But to make the matter easier, let’s divide current day journalism into two sections: News and analysis. News is mostly about facts and whether we get it from the radio, TV, or newspaper, the information is pretty much the same.
So, no one actually reads the newspaper for the news anymore because any significant development had already been sent out either by online portals or by TV channels.
The importance of analysis
When people have too many ways to get news, the demand rises for analysis. For example, the top news in the last two three days was the burning of paddy by farmers to protest the low price in the market.
Now, we all know the basic facts. Some people are content with the core points only. And one cannot blame them either. A computer engineer doesn’t have to know all the details of the paddy tragedy, only the gist will do. Whereas a social worker, a researcher, a political activist, a socio-political analyst, a communications expert, and an economist must know more than just the vital points.
This is where the analytical pieces come and ask the following questions: What has caused the bumper production of rice? What caused the price fall and why wasn’t such a calamity anticipated?
What was the farmer thinking when he burned his paddy? What is the long-term implication of rice farmers switching to another produce? How much impact did the import of Indian rice have on the price fall? When analytical pieces touch every aspect of an event, positive or negative, a deeper picture of the society begins to emerge which helps the government to identify the social areas which need immediate attention.
Let’s go back to the Holey Artisan attack and the analytical pieces on radicalism and militancy that followed. The initial reports mostly touched on the attack, the response of the military, and the eventual resolution of the crisis through a commando intervention.
But the following investigative pieces started to look into the antecedents of the militants trying to form a picture about the indoctrination of modern day young people. Without investigative pieces, it would never have been possible for society to grasp fully the importance of moderation, tolerance, and secular values.
It’s through analytical pieces, based in research, that a picture started to emerge of young people educated at English medium schools ensnared in the web of extremism.
At the same time, analytical articles and reports help us understand the rise of the Islamic State, triggered, as many contend, by the misguided US and British intervention in Iraq and Libya.
Take the rising scourge of rape in Bangladesh. While the initial reports are on the incident, the analyses try to find out the reasons for the sudden surge in sex-related crimes.
Some analytical articles have pointed to libido-enhancing drug yaba for the rise of rape and post-rape murders, while others have boldly underlined the absence of licensed red light areas, which were demolished in Dhaka under the pretext of safeguarding moral values.
These in-depth pieces also persuade us to ask: In the name of putting up a pseudo-puritanical social veneer, are we creating a space for heinous sexual crimes?
Journalism of research and reporting
Today’s journalism is not just about reporting the facts and then forgetting an incident. It’s about reporting, carrying out research, and then going to the root of the issue.
In this exercise, 10 analytical pieces will look at one single issue from 10 different angles, thus giving the reader a comprehensive peek into the matter. Obviously, when research is involved, a journalist needs to study socio-political history carefully. Let’s take the Iran-US contention as an example.
To understand the decades old enmity, most go back to the late 70s when the Shah of Iran, a pro US leader, was toppled and the US embassy in Tehran was sieged by Iranians. However, one has to go far beyond that and to the 50s, when a democratically elected government in Iran fell due to the machinations of the US and UK. As historical documents state, this was done to control Iran’s oil.
Today, US sanctions on Iran plus the flexing of military muscles make the top news; but no media can survive by just giving the latest facts.
They will have to go back to the past and dissect current day developments in view of historical facts plus other geo-political equations. When journalism veers more towards analysis, a reporter or an editorial/op-ed writer cannot just accept any one view on any national or international event as the only truth. A journalist has to assess several explanations and then write an objective piece which gives or tries to give a balanced treatment to the report.
Does this make the profession a little hard? I think so, because, to be a journalist who is taken seriously, one has to go beyond the surface of everything, which means plenty of work and studying.
Every year, hundreds of students graduate from the department of media and journalism; some enter the profession and do this, but few actually remain in the line over a long period. After a certain time, many change track or hang up the pen and concentrate on something else which possibly demands less attention and studying.
However, those who stay on or maintain a link with it carry on fueling journalism as it should be -- trenchant, non-partisan, unbiased, and insightful.
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.