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What is the future of local news in India?

At the Media Festival organised by School of Journalism and Mass Communication, journalist Ravish Kumar spoke to Khabar Lahariya editor Meera Devi and reporter Neha Dixit about their challenges on the ground



Neha Dixit, Ravish Kumar and Meera Devi

As a journalist traversing the rural hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, Meera Devi often confronted snide remarks about her ‘unwomanly’ profession. “In the areas we work, people were initially dismissive of female journalists. Officials would taunt us saying ‘sindoor kyun nahi lagaya (why didn’t you apply sindoor)?’ or ‘achha lagta hai purusho ke beech mein purusho se baat karna (is it appropriate to be around men and question them)?’,” the managing editor of Khabar Lahariya, a news organisation, said at the ‘Media Festival’ recently organised by School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Apeejay Stya University. In conversation with NDTV Group Editor Ravish Kumar who moderated the panel discussion, she added that no amount of derision could stop them from pursuing their job.

Khabar Lahariya is a women-run brand of independent rural news. Beginning its journey 14 years ago as a chain of local newspapers, it has now turned entirely digital and is gaining traction on social media. The news network was featured in an Oscar-nominated documentary called ‘Writing with Fire’.

Dangers of journalism

Patriarchy, however, is not the only opponent that these rural-based women reporters have to combat. Sometimes, there is also an actual threat to life from local people who want to suppress the truth, Meera said, sharing some of her team’s own experiences. From being physically assaulted to facing criminal cases, journalism today is fraught with challenges, added co-panellist and independent journalist Neha Dixit.

Credibility of regional journalists

When Dixit went out for reporting once, she was asked if she was a journalist or a YouTuber, highlighting the growing credibility of influencers over regional small media outlets and independent journalists who are yet to get due recognition even within their own industry. Ravish stressed, “In the pursuit of becoming influencers, journalists now consider themselves to be above their profession. Their influence should reflect in the stories they do. Whenever you read a news article, analyse how much effort really went into creating it.”

In the wake of the much-popular prime time debates, the panellists shared how people in tier II or tier III cities are gradually forming groups to provide honest ground reportage to the masses and dispel fake news. “In big cities, the reporter becomes the story in place of the story itself and that is a huge crisis we are dealing with. While English news has begun to plateau, there seems to be a rising demand for news in vernacular languages among new readers. This is a positive change,” added Dixit.

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Principal Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.