Mar 132013

Google News

25th February headlines and story links via Google News – India Edition

Google News is my landing page for news and opinion, and has been for the best part of the last decade. It acts as an aggregator of news from local, regional, national and global sources, and provides it to the user in an easy to read format. Google News, in its own words, has this to say about its offering :

In the last ten years, Google News has grown to 72 editions in 30 languages, and now draws from more than 50,000 news sources. The technology also powers Google’s news search. Together, they connect 1 billion unique users a week to news content.

Google uses a number of parameters to decide which news ends up on the landing page. These include number of stories (volume) on a given topic; number of words; importance of a news organisation/agency – all these are par for the course – obviously an international paper like New York Times filing a story will rank higher than a local newspaper in Dhule putting out the same story. But, what is also important is the weightage given to audience feedback. Which stories do we click on, which do we choose.

What struck me when I saw the list of news articles in the Google News India landing page, was the absence of certain stories.

a) The drought in Maharashtra – one of the worst droughts in the State, 16 districts impacted. Unprecedented migration from impacted areas to cities. Many places are water starved. It is almost as if no one cares. Not news agencies, newspapers or newsreaders. A human tragedy, that is compounded by the lack of awareness.

b) Bhandara Rapes – three sisters between the ages of 6 and 11 were lured away with the promise of food. Raped. Murdered. And, their bodies dumped in a well. What is striking is that much of the news on this crime is acquired from foreign news agencies, most newspapers neither have reporters in the area, nor the resources to send reporters there. Needless to say, the story has died. It is as though poor children in rural India do not matter.

c) Canning Violence – Canning is a little village in West Bengal that has been devastated by violence. A 100 people descend on a locality and destroy everything, and there isn’t a peep about it. You don’t know if it is gang violence, communal violence, an alien invasion – you know nothing about this event. News channels that gave the protests in Delhi and the violence at Azad Maidanl in Mumbai blanket coverage – are conspicous by their silence

d) Shahbagh Protests – next door in Bangladesh, young men and women are protesting to bring war criminals to book. They are also calling for the banning of the far right Jamaat Party that was, allegedly, complicit in the war crimes. While bloggers and individuals have covered the news on social media, there has been little coverage in the Main Stream Media. Indian news channels who sent their reporters to Libya and Egypt, are nowhere to be seen.

As far as news is concerned, there are media centers – Mumbai and Delhi – Cricket and Bollywood, Sex & Sleaze, the West and what it finds interesting – and media peripheries – the poor and hungry, the marginalised and dispossessed, the Rest of India, the Rest of the world. There are people and events that matter, and there are people and events that don’t.

And, you really cannot blame news channels and news agencies – readers have shown no interest in these stories. In a world of 24 hour news, instant updates, images and words flashed around the world in an instant – it is very likely that certain incidents will never be considered newsworthy by either the news companies or audiences. At the same time, there will be those which are flogged to death. There are topics that are ‘glamorous” – for example terrorism or the threat of terrorism is newsworthy. Thousands of acres of rainforest are destroyed and millions of minutes of airtime is consumed discussing this topic. On the other hand, the impact due to climate change on the most marginal communities, and the most vulnerable demographics – women, children, elderly – is relegated to more niche media. There are illnesses like ‘bird flu‘ that are attractive and take up a disproportionate percentage of news discussions, newspaper coverage and reader mindspace, while deaths due to malnutrition is ignored. Audiences tend to look for the more sensational. Also the more frightening the news, the more likely are people to watch.

What can be done ? Well, there is no magic wand to change audience attitudes. But as networked citizens and media professionals, maybe the solution is to keep talking about issues not present in the mainstream, till someone listens. It isn’t that there isn’t coverage – it is just that it has not been picked up and blown up the story. It is up to concerned individuals to keep stories alive, to bring them to the notice of the world at large. In a networked world, that is possible .

(The views expressed in this column are the writer’s own)

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