On why local news wins the race

My post on the myth of the "national" news channel managed to raise a small storm on Twitter a week or so back. It was about how news channels that proudly tag themselves "national" ignore news from the rest of India -- even news of large-scale destruction. The rant was a long time coming. I, as an Odia living outside Odisha, would have been completely lost for news from my home state if it had not been for the Internet through which I can access Odisha's local news outlets.

Today, Manoj wrote a post regarding the excellent work done by OTV (an Odia news channel) in the service of the people of Odisha all through the flood situation (and their coverage continues even as I type this). Not only did they carry out round-the-clock live coverage of the flood situation as it happened, they also set up information links between people and government agencies. And the reasons behind their proactive role have little to do with resources or availability of time.

OTV did what they did because Odisha is their land and the Odia are their people.

The point I am trying to make is that local news (when it is worthy) is not only more valuable to the audience, but also more likely to come from local sources. When a so-called national news channel pays more attention to small little happenings in Delhi and ignores great tragedies in far off Odisha, that is exactly what they are doing as well. They are being local. And there is nothing wrong with being local as long as you don't try to start calling yourself national. A nation as diverse as India simply can't have a "national" news channel. One agency trying to do justice to all parts of India will invariably be forced to be selective in its coverage.

Earlier today, Harini Calamur wrote in DNA about our news media and the kind of messages it sends out by being blind (or relatively blind in any case) to events happening outside a selection of big towns and important places or topics that lie outside the boundary of urban concerns.
In India, it is very clear that there is a news media centre — cities, citizens, causes & civil societies that get noticed, and a media periphery — issues, areas, people and events that are ignored. The national media tends to do very well when issues are based in its playing fields — Mumbai and Delhi. Regional media do well covering their individual areas or states. The issues arise when it comes to the coverage of India. India is more than just Mumbai or Delhi. It is greater than individual regions or states. It is a diverse, plural, complex, thriving, vibrant nation that deserves better than to be ignored like a beggar at the feast.
The periphery that Calamur refers invariably comprises of local concerns. The offices of most "national" news channels are situated in Delhi and Mumbai. The young men and women who populate these offices live in Delhi and Mumbai as well. Many of them aren't native to these cities, but while they grew up in smaller towns and were educated there, for all practical purposes, they are Delhi/Mumbai locals now. Their concerns are metropolitan and their mental horizons also eventually come to be the same as those who have been brought up in the metros. When these young journalists cover news and events, they do so with some very present biases (explicit and otherwise). Their choice of topics ends up creating news coverage that reflects this city-centric outlook and tragically enough, creates the impression that what happens in Delhi and Mumbai is somehow a reflection of what happens in India in general.

I hope that with the democratisation of media and increasing internet penetration local news will become a more present value in our national discourse. At the end of the day, national news is not an entity that exists in and of itself. A whole lot of local news stories goes into making that monster. The only question here is about the people who engage in the act of collecting and disseminating news. People who don't care about what they are covering (or are supposed to be covering), will never be able to do justice to their work. Local news (as local as it can get) will always have the upper hand as far as reflecting ground realities is concerned.