Turning tides

July 01, 2019

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The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

BY now, it seems to be fairly well recognised that the country’s economy is tanking. Pretty much the entire citizenry has taken a deep hit. The blows that have fallen and will likely continue to fall (one must confess that one is no expert on the matter, but going by the views of people who know far better, it’s going to get worse before it gets better) are, of course, across industry or professional lines.

Chartered accountants to bankers to engineers, most people seem to be talking about inflation, a decline — sometimes steep — in pay-scale standards, a collapsing job market. If this is the situation for so many that are amongst the most well educated in society, which translates to immense privilege, the reality of tens of millions is entirely more grim.

The media industry is a somewhat different place, and presents an interesting angle — from the point of view of scholarship. In recent months, the industry in Pakistan has seen a series of layoffs, a general tightening of belts, pay cuts, and increasing insecurity. The state of the economy has to do with all this, certainly, given knock-on factors such as falling advertising budgets (linked to inflation, a fast-dropping rate of disposable incomes, and perhaps a receding consumerist bubble), realities about the education sector, etc. But there’s perhaps more to the story.

There is an increasing predilection for social media to bring home the word.

The disclaimer to be inserted here is that this article concerns itself with primarily the print media, of which some people in the profession talk gloomily as they discuss the possible end of the industry. This may be going too far but some perspective must be acquired. For it is not the Pakistan print media industry alone that is taking a severe hit — this trend can be witnessed in many other parts of the world too, even where the state of the economy or advertising may not be a major concern. From the US to Britain to the Continent, newspapers managers must make tough decisions, and journalists/staff are suffering.

The truth is that technology has changed. As access to the internet and smartphones have increased exponentially across many parts of the globe, more and more people (especially younger generations that have grown up with these conveniences and use them instinctively) turn towards these aids for reading the news — that is, if they want any. A number of studies carried out, mainly in the West, suggest variously that that there seems to be a growing level of a kind of war-weariness in many societies (leading to many people not wanting to or caring about the news — as it famously brings bad tidings), there is an increasing predilection for social media to bring home the word, and fast-paced lives leave little time for the perusal of daily knowledge. In the UK, for instance, serious, reliable newspapers that get their facts right may be budgeting, but tabloids are doing better. It is not entirely surprising that people might want to read about Prince Harry than the conflict in Afghanistan.

All of this is true, and the newspaper industry around the world must come to grips with it, or watch itself perhaps sadly fade away into the sunset, to be mourned endlessly. Such events materialise, of course.

Leading on from this truth, another one is that the world turns, and one must keep up with it. Newspapers have been being circulated since the mid-17th century or so, the first successful daily in Britain having been printed in 1702 (so the web tells me, proving a convenient QED). The time may now have come for this centuries-old model across the globe to be revisited and overhauled. After all, television means that by the time a newspaper is worked upon, printed and distributed, yesterday’s news is already known and been absorbed (or, as the case may be, dismissed). The internet and television, amongst other modes, are almost instant technologies to disseminate information, including that which is most current.

In the resuscitation of the newspaper industry, then, one way forward would be investigative, long-form journalism that does of course report on the stories of the day, but adds the dimension of context and analysis to a (as far as possible) scholarly extent. Journalists around the world have already been trained in such skills, and have the knowledge — or have access to it. Talk to any old hand and they provide a minefield of depth and perspective about matters of the day.

Having worked with newspapers for years, of course one is well aware of the production process and the urgency that the medium demands (though not as much as the internet or television, but the serious print media’s information often proves much more solid).

However, the world turns, and one has to turn with it.

The writer is a member of staff.

hajrahmumtaz@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2019