From 23–25 March 2014, about 60 journalists, journalism educators, and journalism students from Kerala participated in a collaborative workshop organised in Kochi by the US-based Poynter Institute of Media Studies.1 What were the lessons for Kerala journalism and journalism education from that event?
The workshop was rooted in the understanding that journalism in the United States has been undergoing significant changes since the dawn of the 21st century. The faculty presented data on revenue streams altering course from print media to digital media, and they shared their first-hand experience of US newsrooms reinventing to accommodate new technologies and business concerns.
Without media monitoring, however, no such understanding would have emerged in the first place. That is the fundamental lesson which we should not miss. Underlying the bite-sized takeaways for media managers and journalists that workshops like this offer, there is a systematic process of collecting and analysing data about the media.
Most of the statistics that the faculty quoted, for example, were from the State of the News Media reports of various years. These reports on the US media are a product of the Pew Research Center for Excellence in Journalism, an independent, not-for-profit organisation. Data also came from industry bodies (like the Newspaper Association of America and the Alliance for Audited Media), research and consulting firms (like Borrell Associates), and journalism institutes (like Poynter’s study reports such as The Future of Journalism Education and Core Skills for the Future of Journalism).
Are journalists or faculty from Kerala in a similar position to analyse data, offer insights, or suggest solutions? No, because we do not have sufficient data since Kerala journalism lacks meaningful media monitoring. Not-for-profits or private firms that track the media are non-existent here; universities and j-schools exist, but their neglect of journalism research on Kerala is evident from the near-zero output in academic journals.2 A few individuals taking up small studies in isolation are insufficient to paint an accurate macro picture of the industry or identify state-level trends. Regular monitoring requires resources, and organised, collective effort by an institution, be it private, not-for-profit, or educational.
The Poynter workshop was designed as a wake-up call for Indian journalists and educators to seriously consider the transition from print to digital journalism. While we must remain open to the lessons offered by US educators, it would be irrational to run with conclusions that are based on analysing US media. These conclusions must be first tested against the Kerala media experience. Therefore, Kerala media has to be analysed, for which we must first come up with third-party data collection mechanisms beyond what are available now.
The fact that a section of the online media in Kerala was motivated by ideology (than profit), and tooted its own horn as an open and accessible space, raised the hope that such institutions would usher in a refreshing, data-sharing culture that encourages media monitoring. Sadly, folks in that section have been no different from the secretive traditional media when it comes to disclosing data about readership and revenue. There is little reason, therefore, to any longer expect an idealistic, voluntary disclosure by the young generation of journalists or new media managements. The way forward seems to be third-party, data collection mechanisms that boost the level of trust across firms, and reduce the risk that the industry is exposed to at present. Both online media firms and traditional outlets must equip themselves to face any shocks that technology, demography, or other forces might hit them.
The Poynter workshop also offered lessons in training. It did this in a natural, understated way through practice, than preaching, and in the process demonstrated the efficacy of those pedagogical techniques.
At the venue, two strategies were on display. The first was teaching as facilitation. The concept per se is not new, and almost every Indian educational conference makes the mandatory noise about the need for teachers to be facilitators. But the actual practice of facilitation is rare; even those of us who begin our sessions with questions and interaction, tend to shift mid-way to lecture mode, to cover the material in hand. But at the Poynter workshop, some sessions were facilitative throughout, as the faculty encouraged the participants to discover new ideas through discussion and practice. This technique was appreciated by the participants, many of who were mid-career or senior journalists. Facilitation triggered not only cross-cultural learning, but also diversity of ideas to chew on, though-provoking questions, display of participants’ talent and intellect, honing of skills, and an overall sense of immersion in the proceedings.
The second pedagogical strategy of note was collaborative teaching. This is perhaps unheard of in j-schools in India. Essentially, it involves a session being handled by a few faculty, rather than one or two faculty. The session is led by one faculty, and 4–5 other faculty (on the dais) too contribute during the session.
For example, when a participant asks a question, the answer comes from not just the lead faculty, but also those colleagues who have academic knowledge or practical experience in the specific area. Sometimes, the lead faculty does not answer the question at all, instead choosing to say, “I do not know the answer. X probably has experience in this. X, would you like to answer that?” This method delivers maximum value to the participant, because the session is topic-driven rather than faculty-centric. Since it requires the lead faculty (as well as colleagues) to give way to others often, it demands a high degree of sensitivity and a low level of ego among the resource persons.