The Future of News 2011: The changing face of news:

In the special address at The Future of News, 2011, held at The Oberoi, New Delhi on August 4, Santosh Desai, managing director and chief executive officer, Future Brands, highlighted the fact that the future of the business of news is bright and growing. However, it tends to take new forms, especially with change in technology, and generates dichotomies.

Speaking about the need of news, Desai explained, “From the consumer’s perspective, news is required as it provides an orderly movement of time, apart from providing a sense that the world is ‘knowable’. News provides an acknowledgment to the consumer that ‘I am not alone’. Furthermore, news provides recognition of one’s place in the world, and gives the idea of an independent world. It is this acknowledgment that the readers need.”

According to Desai, the hierarchy of news is changing rapidly in the newspapers, including what should go in the front page as the lead, and what should be carried in the last page. “Thus, what is actually happening is that for us readers, somebody is processing, indexing, cataloguing and prioritising the world, which in return is helping us to know the world and allowing us to make sense of that,” he said.

Desai elaborated that the meaning of news has changed; news has transformed from journalism to the business of media. The style of coverage of news, too, has undergone a big change. When people talk about news, they talk about it with a certain amount of unease, as if there is too much about it — in a sense, news is something they can no longer observe with a detached sense and are rather absorbed by it.

Also, earlier, news was centrally produced and now, it’s centrally generated. Desai added, “News has changed from being a stable order to an unstoppable movement, from information to stimulation, and from ticking order of time to flow of events.”

According to Desai, the business of news has led to the formation of two kinds of trend, producing dramatic changes. Firstly, ‘Marketisation of news’ – the fact that news has become much more integrated to the market system and it is difficult to make it stand out, while the original vision of journalism was that it was a pillar of society and would stand out. The dominant logic is that decision making in the media is led by the fact that it is business.

Further elaborating on the first trend, Desai said that news is now driven by what the viewers want. There is a high level of interest in trying to understand what viewers want and then using news as advertising, that is, selecting the proposition of a piece of news and then embellishing the truth.

Increasingly, news today is sliced and packaged in a way a product is packaged in advertising. He further added that the code of advertising and news is coming together and television, being the kind of medium, is led by the supply side.

Talking about the second trend, the ‘Decentralisation of news’, Desai said, “The world has now become a news gatherer through social media outlets. Also, now, there is a low dependency on traditional news outlets as individuals have greater control over news and are guiding traditional outlets. Therefore, the overall impact from the business point of view is that the change has heightened the anxiety about attracting consumers, and today, both variables are feeding into each other.”

In case of impact from the consumer’s perspective, he said that the approach of the media has become to amplify rather than represent reality. Elaborating, he said, “News has fragmented into items such as scams, links and articles. Moreover, the change has led to a gradual collapse of the idea of a single truth, and the news business is now about wanting to hear what one believes.”

Towards the end of his presentation, Desai stressed that going forward, in the future, news will be ruled by social media. There is a need to understand that news cannot be moulded by consumers and the business will be about credible news. And, credibility will become more important when news gathering gets atomised. It is important to understand that in an independent world, news has much greater functional value. Thus, there is a need of independent pillars to provide counterpoints and a check system.