This time next week, newspapers and television channels in America will be awash in remembrances of things two years past. But nowhere near the scale of last 9/11. “Virtually every media company — including the major television networks, and the leading publishers of newspapers, weekly magazines and books — is planning to commemorate the terrorist attacks in some fashion,” the New York Times reports, “but usually with more limited and understated offerings than they put forth last year.”
Of course, a second anniversary can never claim the same attention as the first. The atmosphere just isn’t as emotionally charged. But the reasons for this year’s low-key plans have a lot to do with economics as well. Last year, for example, few advertisers were willing to have their brands associated with the issues of the weekly news-magazines devoted exclusively to the first anniversary, even though those issues were among the biggest sellers of the year for Time and Newsweek. The managing editor of Time has even been quoted as saying, “It is certainly true advertisers are not rushing to be part of stories about terrorism.”
Rupert Murdoch’s ultra-patriotic Fox News had no commercials at all during its 18 hours of special coverage last year. Bad news is no longer that good a news for the press. Not in America, not anywhere. Not even in India.
The Times of India, always first off the mark in such matters, has begun telling its journalists to steer clear of sad tales about poor people that may depress readers. “Feel-good” stories are the need of the hour, those that create the best environment for those glitzy ads — promoting that zany phone, this snazzy shirt, that easy home loan — to flourish. The Times is not alone. All publications and channels are grappling with this grim truth, few are so upfront about it. Hence the media’s feverish interest in lifestyle and glamour.
Even the high-minded Hindu acknowledges this, in its usual roundabout manner. The 3,000-word editorial it published last week to underline its superior editorial principles pointed out that advertising accounted for 80 per cent of its total revenue. “In the contemporary age,” read the next sentence, “there can be no walls between the editorial and marketing functions of a newspaper in the sense of ruling out exchange of information, insight and experience, consultation and cooperation.”
How long before it too catches up with its “reader aspirations”'
Watch this space
Such is the impact of television news that it can even jolt indolent state administrations to action. Henceforth (and no one is holding out hope that this was the last of the blasts), Mumbai crime sites will look more like the ones we see on CNN or BBC — safely cordoned off with yellow tape. A case of good coming out of bad.
At a meeting between the police and TV personnel last Sunday, Mumbai’s most media-savvy and eloquent police officer, Ahmed Javed, spelt out a code of conduct for TV crews. From now on, they would no longer have the free run of an incident spot. Instead, the entire area would be cordoned off and pressmen limited to a designated spot so that they don’t trample all over the place, destroying evidence or triggering off undetonated bombs.
In future, too, the police will make senior officers available to reporters so that they can verify the news before going on air — and avoid a repeat of August 25, when the news channels broadcast all sorts of rumours about the blasts and added to the panic in the city. And such is the impact of television news that it can even jolt indolent media administrations to action. Zee News has just suspended two correspondents for its report last week that the prime minister had fallen ill and collapsed at the Srinagar airport where he had gone for the chief ministers’ conference. The PM later showed up on TV to announce he was just fine. Watch this space for more lessons in TV journalism.