Seven years ago, having a Facebook account just meant chatting with the same friends you met every day, writing “LOL” on posts that barely made you smile, and liking pages called “Writing LOL On Posts That Barely Make You Smile”.
Of course, times have changed. The social media website now shapes public opinion and is the perfect launchpad for every social movement. It makes and breaks businesses. What people post on their timelines decides their social stature. Apparently, it also elects the president of a so-called free country. LOL. (Sorry, that was insensitive).
However, there continues to be an undue irreverence towards social media and the generation which has “its heads buried in smartphones”. This irreverence isn’t just perpetrated by the older generation which grew up without the internet, but also by old-school media organisations.
I read an intellectual newspaper called The Indian Express (IE). The IE is known for its unparalleled investigative stories, top-notch editorials, and minimum advertisements. However, its online presence hardly mirrors its offline intellect. In fact, there are times when echoes of Miss Malini resonate more with IE’s Facebook page.
One fine morning, I didn’t have the time to read my beloved IE. Naturally, while travelling to college, I started scrolling through my newsfeed. A post by Hindustan Times told me about an ordinance tabled by the Rajasthan government that shields public servants from prosecution. Times Of India informed me about how we will strengthen ties with Bangladesh. My beloved Indian Express told me that Shah Rukh Khan’s daughter, Suhana Khan, went out with her friends to do “girlie” things.
I ignored, kept scrolling.
A couple of articles later, IE nudged me to check the price of Suhana’s shoes, which she was wearing when she was doing said girlie things.
Hence, it compelled me to write this article.
Tabloid news has found space in one of the best media organisations of our country. It’s not that critical stories of the day aren’t published on IE’s Facebook page, or that there’s anything wrong with entertainment news. But does the emerging trend of focusing on the glamorous lives of star kids even qualify as entertainment news? The media reports on what they wear, what they eat, and who they hang out with.
This practice is similar to how the Jenners and Hadids were in the spotlight much before their careers took off. Through such reportage, the public gets an insight into the personal lives of ‘upcoming stars’, and tries to live the ‘high life’ vicariously. Most Indian media organisations are using this ‘insight’ as click baits, thereby pressurising these children, and trying to feed us frivolous content.
I am singling out the IE because it will never have an actress’ cleavage on the front page to sell copies. Still, their Facebook page is different. It appears to operate on an underlying assumption that rather than journalism of courage, millennials would prefer to scrutinise the life of a 17-year-old star kid. Unduly, the perception of social media from seven years ago seems to persist.
Millennials are always online, yes. However, we need to emphasise that the firecracker ban, or #MeToo, wouldn’t be trending online if we were just here for the fluff. Facebook and Twitter curate the best of news stories, editorials, and entertainment pieces by publications of our preference. They mix these stories with what our friends are doing in life and give us a holistic outlook of what’s up in the world. Earlier, people would read one or two newspapers a day because of lack of options and time. Now we consume news from at least ten different publications. As we have multiple sources, we sieve through biases and propaganda to get a more nuanced understanding of the world.
Our newsfeed is a competitive space for media organisations. Those who cannot deliver quality news get unliked almost immediately. Keeping this in mind, Suhana’s shoes shouldn’t make the cut to my newsfeed at all, no matter how much they cost.
If a premier news organisation wants to explore frivolous content, they can do it while being socially responsible, without pitting Sonakshi Sinha and Rani Mukherjee against each other about who wore pink worse. For instance, Buzzfeed India might be snorting up some K3G every day, but it does teach people about feminism through its GIFS and memes.
On my newsfeed, the Indian Express often discredits its own brand of journalism and insults its online readership. While the problem of scrutinising the life of star kids is a pertinent one, there’s a market for it. However, the IE shouldn’t and doesn’t need to tap into that market for it has a market of its own.
As an avid IE reader, I feel, differential treatment should only be meted to its online readers in terms of format and tools of journalism used. It needs to adapt to digital media and make serious journalism appealing to all. HT media does it with its interactive stories and mobile journalism. Quartz’s news app texts you news as if it were your friend. If nothing, IE can also begin its articles with lame, meta “LOL” jokes and by the end of it, make sure that the readers take away something worth thinking about.