How The Focus On ‘Popular Elements’ And Virality On The Internet Is Killing Quality Journalism

Posted on June 3, 2014 in Media

By Anwesha Dhar:

Today, I feel angry. The anger I feel is quite incongruent with the general happenings of the day-my exams got over, I went to this new Tibetan place in my neighbourhood, followed by Peter Cat at Park Street and treated myself to a sumptuous meal of Chelo Kebab. There is no reason why I should feel angry today. But the origin of my anger is deep-seated and tracts to a long-standing grievance; rather an issue which not only angers me but makes me feel apprehensive.

Summer is finally lurking round the corner and a host of students will soon be flouting various websites to find a suitable internship for themselves. While Indian job market has warmed up to college students in the fields of management, science and engineering, the scope for Arts students like me remain extremely restricted. I believe it is keeping in tandem with the age-old presupposition that a History major or an English major hardly require any experience as these are not ‘technical’ fields and therefore, do not call for the on-ground experience that internships provide. Ask any Arts student how hard they have scrutinized internship sites for an opportunity and you will get a hint of the frustration raging in each one of our hearts. But that is not why I feel angry today. I feel angry because the only iota of hope that I had found in this otherwise bleak situation is now at a gullible position of being snatched away from me. I am talking about my love for journalism and penning articles, and how it stands at a place which might soon prove to be inaccessible for likes like me, if any.


I don’t remember how I got into writing, it perhaps started with all those little essays we write in class that receives a star and then it took a turn to doing a couple of internships here and there at print media houses. However, with the consolidation of Internet as the most powerful medium to communicate, it swept us in a tide of change which pervaded every sphere of human society-even journalism. This change not only comprises a different medium of reading in the forms of kindles/laptops/tablets/smartphones, it also demands a new kind of journalism-the kind that will catch our attention from the myriad of posts flooding our feed and also something that will be extremely concise so that it does not require much effort on the reader’s part. The easiest way to get this right is by creating ‘listicles’, a small list of 5 things either good/bad/ugly about anything and everything under the sun. Coupled with a handful of images, this makes a good easy-on-the-eye and easy-on-the-mind kind of article. ‘Quality’ of the article is determined by the traction-how many likes, shares and views it gets.

I enjoy listicles from time to time. Say, when they talk about the 90’s or the different kind of cuisines available in India; it’s informative and enjoyable. My main problem arises on seeing the second part of the headline- ‘Cuisines in India that you must try’; ‘Five 90’s movie which are a MUST-watch’; Why it is GOOD to have long hair; Why are THESE things a fashion disaster. My main problem lies, therefore, with the implicit effort of wanting to define my opinions for me, of designating some things as good and some things as bad, and excluding everything else from the very topic of discussion. It’s like the stringent canonisation of certain works of literature being deemed as good enough to read and discounting every other book and author as being unworthy. What is more, when I applied for a particular internship with one such blog, they clearly stated it in the mail, “We rely on image-heavy/video-heavy articles. We do NOT prefer text-heavy works.” An article supplemented with images and videos are a great way of relating the content of the article but journalism is headed in such a direction where the text itself is evaporating and what we are left with is a residue of gifs, jpegs and pngs. I cannot say what I want to or express it with the aid of words strung together in an article. I need to choose the ‘popular elements’ (whatever that is), use some pictures and pass it off the best things or the worst. Writing about things and leaving the reader to ascertain what is right or not, to trust the reader’s powers of articulation to form his/her own opinions is no longer ‘popular’.

I love words, I love piecing them together like blocks of a puzzle. I do not quite know what is ‘popular’, as I mentioned earlier, I can barely handle gifs and jpegs and I have no intention of framing someone’s perception of the ‘best songs in the universe’ for him/her. I therefore don’t stand a chance. Today, I feel angry.