Journalism is one of the most respectable professions the world over. To be able to report and present topics and organise debates around a wide range of subjects is not everybody’s cup of tea. We all have grown up in an era of television boom and ever since the 90s in our strides towards consumerism; news has become a quintessential part of growing up. Even the writing skill classes during our school days were shaped accordingly owing to the growth of quality journalism so that children could that foundation right from school level.
There is a code of integrity that the media follows. Unfortunately, that has receded drastically. I learnt the term ‘yellow journalism’ as a 15-year-old while participating in a quiz competition and it got etched in my memory forever. Little did I know that yellow journalism, or in the more recent context, ‘fake news’ would become such a disease for the whole society. It is no less than a kind of cancer that makes sure to destroy the brain’s comprehension capabilities.
So, I conducted a little research and found out that there is extremely limited content on how yellow journalism has been doing the rounds across countries, and in India specifically. Although, there is a lot of content on fake news and we all have been a victim of this at some point in our lives. Such is the power of yellow journalism- to grab people’s attention with a lot of exaggeration and blowing things out of proportion! In other words, it just acts as the yellow–coloured helmet or the yellow school buses which catch our attention.
Media is the fourth pillar of democracy- a mouthpiece for spreading the truth. Taken from the Mundaka Upanishad, ‘Satyameva Jayate’, which means truth alone triumphs finds its place in the national emblem of the great country that India is. But, this fourth pillar of democracy is finding it extremely difficult to realise its moment of truth.
Today, I strongly feel that it is sold out and is primarily responsible for causing violence and creating an environment of anarchy. Those who want to show us the truth face heavy crackdowns via different means, ranging from getting assassinated or beaten up, jailed under sedition, raided or arrested under controversial laws which could be a potential threat to national security.
As they say, give people what they want to hear and that is what yellow journalism does. The term was coined in the 1890s in New York City, when two renowned journalists, namely William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World, were in the middle of a bitter rivalry and cut-throat competition when it came to the circulation of newspapers. This is a wide term which included sensationalism, gossips, and scandals along with a great amount of misinformation or fake news.
Back then, there was very little correction to no correction done, as a result of which, the huge working class remained largely ill-informed. In fact, it was such a huge menace that it was successful in fuelling up people’s emotions to set in a pro-war attitude and is also thought to have sowed the seeds for the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. During this time the sales of the newspapers boomed because people were hungry to consume the day to day happenings. It is also sometimes referred to as the first ‘media war’.
After the war got over, many got fed up with fake news and sensationalism and thus, ushered in an era of righteousness where newspapers strived to promote balanced news by the late 1890s. This was also the time when the New York Times started becoming successful and got a huge readership.
Sidney Pomerantz, a history instructor in the City College, New York, commented, “The public is becoming heartily sick of fake news and fake extras. Some of the newspapers in this town have printed so many lying dispatches that people are beginning to mistrust any statement they make.” Thus, was the start of the beginning of ‘normalcy’ where people began to differentiate between right from wrong and started understanding that it was impossible to do away with sensationalism and grabbing headlines!
It is a huge relief that today we have fact-checking news websites who are doing a great job by stopping the peddling of lies to a great extent. There is always a conflict between ethics and the craze to get that ‘breaking news’ on our TV screens.
In an era of sensationalism when most of the rationality, sensibility and sanity has gone down the drain, battling with trash journalism of many websites, journals and news channels must be taken seriously and should be a responsibility to correct ourselves and others who fall prey to such pieces of information. Somehow we all have stopped listening to the other side of the stories to get a balanced view.