Where Is The Real News?

By Priyanka Borpujari | 2012/13 IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow

August 30, 2012

The last 10 days have been ones filled with excitement and anxiety, wonderment and fatigue, learning and realisations. It was a period in which I realised that good intentions are always welcomed with an eager ear, more support and encouragement – something that an independent journalist like I needs it, when these times that we are living in are understood in terms of profits and collateral damages. At the same time, being honoured with the IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow of 2012-2013 brings along an abundance of responsibility – the responsibility to choose words meditatively, before the always-powerful words are read in a way that could be damaging. Here on, I will paint a translucent picture of my days while enjoying the fruits of my journalism, while attempting to understand a foreign country and link ideas and expectations and hopes and tragedies to the ones in my country, India.

After having arrived at Washington DC’s Dulles airport, three days were spent in understanding how the Western media functions, and how it perceives India as the subject of ‘foreign news’. Marina Walker Guevara, the Deputy Director of International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) ran me through the reasons why an independent body like ICIJ was necessary for some of the crucial investigations of our time. Patient and yet passionate, she explained how ICIJ functions, and it seemed optimistic that journalists’ works are given due consideration and attention, so that the primary goal of their reportage is to expose and effect change. Tiffany Harness, Foreign Weekend Editor of The Washington Post, elaborated the cut-throat competition among foreign news stories to see the light of the day in every edition. She said how it was essential to take the bigger picture in the context of what is happening locally, and how such a story could possibly generate more hits on the publication’s website. Does more traffic on the website give a publication an assumed green signal to throw open a PayPal button? These seemed to be the questions every news editor is asking across the world.

Don Podesta, Manager and Editor, of Center for International and Media Assistance (CIMA) gave a new dimension to the idea of media development – ways in which communications is being revolutionised in innovative ways, in places where necessity calls for deeper intervention, news generation from places not visible on Google Earth, and effective and far-reaching news dissemination. On the other hand, International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) has been working with journalists from different countries of the world to connect them with latest developments in digital technology and offers a platform for various fellowships. Babar Taimoor, Programme Manager of South Asia at ICFJ was of the opinion that local news in places like Pakistan were being ignored to make space for the typical big news – something that would never matter to a local population. This seemed to be a key point if the theory of “journalism effects change” is to be practised, because, so far, news organisations were moving towards consolidating their news reports (like the ways consolidation of news corporations were taking place).

At the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, I understood how among other investigative journalism works and grants for the same, journalists were being brought to schools and colleges, to get students to learn in a deeper, real way about the world outside their classrooms and TVs. The attempt was to train them to grow with sensitive eyes and possibly dream of journalism (and its many dimensions with the still and video camera) as their possible route towards humanising the world.A phone interview with Danielle Nierenberg, Nourishing-the-Planet Project Director at the Worldwatch Institute, made me realise how important it was to constantly go deeper into understanding the cause-and-effect mechanism before stories are written, and before interventions are made by foundations. It was heart-warming to know that everywhere, journalists and media at large, are seen as catalysts who can, and continue to, shape public opinion. Which is why this is a dangerous job, more than just bullets.

A short trip to the Newseum made me want to replicate the idea in India – of charting history, development, mistakes, marginalisations, victories, failures through news. I am not much of a museum person, but this trip made me realise what a position I hold by just being in the profession (and one that I love deeply) of reporting truth as it is.