"Digital is not going to be the revolution. The
revolution is going to be the people behind it."
-Sidharth Bhatia, co-founder of The Wire
The world of Journalism has witnessed many key events. In the 1990s when India opened its markets for the first time to the world, liberalization not just freed the markets but even the press from the shackles of government control. It led to the ushering in of 24/7 news channels, a wide variety of magazines, and a little bit of courage but at the same time, new shackles of private ownership, Political pressure, and corporate allegiance brought another set of limitations.
But since the last ten years, a new hope is being witnessed for free expression in media in the form of digital media platforms in India. With the coming of social media platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, etc. A new kind of interactive journalism has taken root in India, which aims to monetize the new space created with the rise of social media and the internet boom.
The Reuters Digital News Report 2021, highlighted that India has more than 600 million active internet users, making it the second-largest country in terms of internet users and one of the strongest mobile-focused markets with 73% of users accessing news through mobile and just 37% via computer.
It is this arena of the digital world, that attracted few journalists like Raghav Bahl and Ritu Kapur, Samir Patil and Naresh Fernandes, Siddharth Vardarajan, and Sidharth Bhatia, that they eventually moved out of legacy media houses, and launched their respective websites, The Quint.com, scroll.in, and The Wire. This turn towards Digital space and social media was inspired by a search for freedom of expression and a zeal to redefine journalism.
These Digital media startups, some of which are 'not for profit' like the wire and others 'for profit' like the scroll, the Quint, etc., were launched with one similar premise that was to explore the new world of digital media on the principles of age-old journalistic ethics.
For Quint, the target audience was the younger population, with its slogan: 'Truth For The Youth,' the site aimed to provide popular digital journalism with content based on politics, policy, entertainment, food, and everything else that mattered. It took inspiration from digital media startups of the west like Vice, Vox, and Buzzfeed.
The outlet combined video, audio, and text for a unique social experience. Creative, original stories like "how to not sexually harass a female colleague," made journalism and Indian media an interactive experience.
Similarly, scroll with a focus on in-depth reporting and commentary has used the digital platform to do some daring stories like the recent report on the Prime Minister's constituency relating to the effects of the country's lockdown, which led to the filing of FIR against its journalist Supriya Sharma.
The wire, on the other hand, started a venture with faith in its audience. The not-for-profit platform was founded on the principle that "if good journalism is to survive and thrive, it can only do so by being both editorially and financially independent. This meant relying principally on contributions from readers and concerned citizens who have no interest other than to sustain a space for quality journalism."
Its core approach towards journalism has been publishing commentary and opinion pieces, curated material from news agencies, and pieces by outside contributors including journalists, public intellectuals, and academics from India and beyond.
Akin to other Digital platforms the wire has come under the scanner for doing what it preaches. It has landed itself into trouble by doing stories that the legacy media brands would dare not touch. Recently Two journalists of The Wire – Seraj Ali and Mukul S Chauhan — and two others identified as Mohammad Naeem and Mohammad Anees were named in an FIR by Barabanki police for its video documentary on the demolition of a "mosque" by district administration. Yet, its credibility has remained intact and is in fact growing, as the recent survey by Reuters has placed its trust at 55% more than that of Republic TV, which has a wider audience as well as larger reach.
Thus, this new space provided by the internet boom and rise of social media in the Indian market has indeed given birth to a new form of journalism which has made journalism interactive, democratic, Ingenious when it comes to usage of tools such as video, images and text and more open to free expression, but on the other side of the coin when we compare the numbers with specific focus towards 'Reach', these new media platforms lack the number of audiences which is required to make any effective change.
The above-mentioned digital media platforms and many others like the daily hunt, first post, scoop whoop, etc. serve an urban and English educated audience thus, compounding to an approx. 10% of India's population, which is a small number to amounts to any large-scale change.
Additionally, the Digital space is not just limited to these platforms as the legacy media brands like NDTV, Times of India, BBC News Online, Indian Express, New18, Hindustan Times, etc. were already present in the space for a long time and have garnered better reach due to more funding via advertisements and generations of established trust.
Thus, despite the growth in the number of mobile internet users and the growing popularity of Digital media in the country, Television and print media remain the most popular sources of News in India, unlike what the digital revolution has done in the west.
Yet not all hope is lost, as even with the little space that has been provided, to these new media platforms, they have managed to leave their imprint on India's journalistic scene. Moreover, In recent history, some of the platforms like 'scroll' have launched their Hindi platform called Satyagrah to move towards the Hindi audience, and most of these platforms are tapping into the promise of greater reach in the future. And as Sidharth Bhatia rightly pointed out, “digital is not going to be the revolution; It is the people behind it who will bring the revolution.”
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