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Outmoded or Valid: Centres and Margins in the Age of

Digital Journalism
--Amit Baruah, Vivekananda Kendra Auditorium, Uzanbazar,
Guwahati, October 18 at the invitation of the Munin Barkataki
Memorial Trust
It is indeed an honour for me to be invited to deliver this lecture to
mark the centennary celebrations of Munin Barkotoki. As his
interests demonstrate, Munin Barkotoki has had a cross-cutting
influence on journalism, the arts and literature. I am grateful to the
organisers for having me here today.

In July 1986, soon after graduating from Delhi University I


took a job as a trainee sub-editor in The Indian Express. To
qualify, I had to sit for an English language and general
knowledge test to get the position.
For one year, my princely stipend was a sum of 600
Rupees.
Working in the basement of The Indian Express office in
Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg was both fun and a place of
great learning.
All my training came from my seniors. It was on-the-job
training in the truest sense possible
Coming to office when the rest of the world was leaving
and seeing the ink on your fingers as you picked up the
newspaper well after midnight were unforgettable affairs.
The clackety-clack of the teleprinter machine brought the
news of the world to you.
It was still a time when stringers, or part-time
correspondents, sent the news by telegram.
The News Editor, or the Director-General of the newsroom,
had enormous clout and reporters made it a point to
remain on the good side of the News Editor.
You might, rightly, ask why am I telling you all this.

Well, its because I want to share with you the dramatic


and far-reaching changes that technology has brought to
my journalistic work, how my reader accesses news and to
the organisations that have employed me.
In 1988, I joined the Delhi edition of The Hindu as a staff
reporter. When I walked into the fourth floor office of The
Hindu in IENS building as it was then known, I set my eyes
on a computer for the first time ever.
Since then it has been a roller-coaster ride with one
constant change.
The fax machine was the most modern of communication
devices at the time.
It was a time when the Delhi police had a constable come
and deliver the crime briefs of the day to newspaper
offices.
In many ways, it was a simple and less-complicated world.
However, the pressure to do high-quality journalism, break
stories and provide incisive analysis and opinion was everpresent even then.
There seemed to be a stronger belief then that an
informed India would also be a more equal, lessdiscriminatory and participative India.
The Internet may have been imagined in the West, but it
took me until
1990 when I saw you could send an email with the press
of a computer key during a visit to Cambridge in the
United Kingdom.
It was fascinating.
But I am digressing.
So back to the point and the present.

Today, at the press of a thumb and a finger, you can write,


deliver and publish on your mobile device.
Everyone can be and is a journalist, the reporter has no
exclusive privilege to breaking the news or even analysis.
When Osama bin Laden was taken out by the Americans
through a pre-dawn raid in Abbottabad in Pakistan, the
first information came not from a reporter but from the
twitter account of a techie who happened to be up late.
Thats how much the Internet has changed everything.
Social media is a great equalizer.
Even large legacy organisations must turn to User
Generated Content to stay relevant and tell all aspects of
the story.
The pace of change is too much even for seasoned media
practitioners.
Every day there is something new to learn, something
more to read and some new technology to master.
Its a constant and ever-flowing opportunity to be informed
and educated, to be entertained and enthralled.
Staying in touch and following the latest on social media
can be quite exhausting and time-consuming.
For journalists, their personal Twitter feed is the ultimate
news agency, where you can control and moderate what
you want and edit and remove what you dont.
And heres the good news.
Its available to all.
Its no longer the privilege of those sitting in Guwahati,
Delhi, London or New York.

Its available in Dahod and Dhubri, in Bongaigaon and


Bangalore, in Majuli and Mangalore.
The margins have been eroded and the Centre no longer
holds.
Journalists at the margins are still paid less, but at long
last they have the opportunity of being informed just like
their counterparts in big cities and towns.
Needless to say, thats if you are not experiencing a power
cut.
Collated information once available only in libraries and in
newspaper offices is accessible at the click of a button.
You have only yourself to blame if you are less informed or
even ignorant.
It is this power of information that is available to evenly
skill journalists both at the Centre or at the margins.
There is no story that is less important to the audience
and there is no barometer to measure relevance and
importance.
In my experience, many journalists at the margins are
willing to work harder and spend more time in
newsgathering than those working at the Centre.
In fact, digital access questions the very notion of the
Centre and the Periphery in journalism.
This access is an equalizing force, which if applied
sensibly, has the power to make power centres listen
carefully to voices emanating form different parts of India.
However, this is not to suggest that opportunity is equal.
Access to decent salaries that would give both stability
and comfort to journalists working away from big cities
and towns is still a question that calls for an answer.

Just before the Asian Games happened in 1982, the first


television transmitter came up in Guwahati. I
It was Mrs. Indira Gandhis dream to beam spectacle into
homes in Guwahati.
My father, the late U.L. Baruah, who worked for 38 years
in All India Radio, told me, Now, neglected Assam will see
how people in Delhi are enjoying.
Three decades later, the scene has changed.
Assam can still see what Delhi is doing or enjoys, but
equally Delhi can see the state of Guwahati.
Whether it is enjoyable is a separate issue.
But I will leave for the question and answer session the
issue of whether Delhi is interested in Guwahati or
Itanagar or indeed in Bastar or Agartala.
Thank you very much.