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Opinion: The curious case of Facebook journalism in Kashmir

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A few weeks ago, a video of a so-called reporter barging into the COVID ward coercing doctors and patients to talk had sent shockwaves across Kashmir. A reporter with a gun-mike possibly with a smartphone was going ward to ward without wearing a PPE kit and making fun of doctors. 

Journalist bodies unequivocally condemned the incident and schooled the rabble-rousers, although through press releases and usual social media posts. On the ground, little was done to purge journalism from black sheep and blackmailers. A usual stroll at the Press Colony sums up the scene of journalism in Kashmir. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry is nowadays a reporter. Everyone has a gun- mike with a nondescript logo. No one knows who they are working for. Nobody has any idea which channels or media organization they are working for.

 

 A cursory study of these random journalists, who mostly camp on roads and pavements at the press enclave, reveals that most of them are operating pages on Facebook. They have fancy names and post videos and happenings on their pages. 

From a simple protest at the Press Colony to any law and order issue, the Facebook journalists (as they are called in local lingo) are always omnipresent. Even they can be seen in the press conferences, which are sometimes reserved. Unabashed and uncouth, most FB journos are semi-literate small-time go-between who try to earn quick bucks using journalism as a stepping stone.

Gone are the days when journalism was the most sought-after profession. Gone are the days, when a reporter had to work hard to earn a byline. It was a norm in every newsroom that a reporter had to throw a party when he gets the first front-page byline. I might have attended dozens of parties my friends and colleagues threw to celebrate their first front-page story. It could have been simple `Nader Mounj’ or a cup of tea on a roadside tea stall, but loosening purse strings was a must. It was a celebration of a unique feat by a cub reporter. It was motivating the reporter to perform. Every byline on the front page was earned and earned hard. Our editors equally were thrilled to see young guns performing.  They used to shake hands and hug the newbie when he was hitting the front page.

Every journalist does not need a degree in mass communication or journalism, but he definitely needs hard training. To borrow from my friend, a journalism degree or training is a kind of ablution that is a prerequisite for anyone to become a reporter. A hard grueling by editors in morning meetings and a daily review of stories are an essential part of newsroom culture. This instills a sense of responsibility among the reporters. He or she can’t let his or her guard down because he has to explain not only his stories but other copies he may have missed. In our time, calling people for quotes on the phone (I mean landline because mobiles and Google were yet to be invented) was a strict no-no. I remember walking kilometers to save transportation charges to get quotes. Sometimes it was hard, but in the end, it helped us to grow and become a responsible reporter if not a great reporter.

Post-1990 when Kashmir became an international dateline, the journalism profession attracted quality youth who quickly rose from the ranks.  After 1996 elections and the separatists’ newfound glory, journalism in Kashmir also started to grow. 

However, with the advent of technology and social media, journalism became a cottage industry. Instead of a degree or proper training, a newbie relied on a smartphone and a 4G pack. He can storm any press conferences, interview who-is-who, report from no-go areas, and brush shoulders with high and mighty. And all thanks to Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. Sometimes one reporter operates multiple news pages on Facebook.    

Technology has definitely revolutionized every field. Journalism is not lagging behind. We have seen popular news anchors doing MoJo (Mobile Journalism). Several former reporters have started their YouTube channels and they telecast the content which not only cuts the clutter but presents an independent version of news which 24×7 channels tend to avoid.

Journalism is synonymous with responsibility and credibility. A reporter has to walk on a razor’s edge to maintain credibility. Once it is lost, the journalist becomes a broker. Therefore, we need to regulate FB journalism. Let us join hands to save journalism in Kashmir.

(Views expressed are personal. Feedback at [email protected])