An interesting feature of current media operations is the winding up by newspapers of their foreign bureaus. Time was when, especially in the fifties and sixties, newspapers prided themselves on the number of reporters sent abroad as foreign correspondents. At one time, for example, The Times of India had correspondents in Hong Kong, Colombo, Nairobi, Cairo, Bonn, London and Washington and the paper had a separate desk to handle the copy sent by them. No longer. Foreign correspondents are getting out of fashion. And this is true not only of Indian newspapers, but newspapers abroad as well. Instead of stepping up coverage of international affairs, American newspapers, for instance, as also television networks, are steadily cutting back, closing down their foreign bureaus with increasing regularity.
As late as the seventies Indian newspapers like Hindustan Times, The Times of India, The Indian Express and The Hindu had correspondents in Washington. No longer. The usual excuse is that television has made foreign correspondents redundant. One suspects that the true reason is that maintaining a correspondent abroad is getting to be too expensive. Costs have risen up to an unbelievable extent. Another possible reason is the development of information technology and the dominance of Internet. But one can'tbe too sure. In the 1980s, American TV networks each maintained about fifteen foreign bureaus; presently they have less than six. ABC, for instance shut down its offices in Moscow, Paris and Tokyo. NBC closed bureaus in Beijing, Cairo and Johannesburgh. It is not a good thought.
Television channels do not give background information. Nor do they provide analysis of events that only a perceptive foreign correspondent can deliver. This point was heavily stressed recently by a veteran American news anchor, Walter Cronkite in a talk he gave at Columbia University. Cronkite warned that pressure by media companies to generate increasing profits is threatening America'svalues and freedom by leaving people less informed. As he put it, ?the need for high quality reporting is greater than ever and it is not just the journalist'sjob at risk but it'sAmerican democracy?. The same thing can be said of Indian media as well.
Few newspapers have correspondents even in India'sown neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Pakistan may not wish to let Indian journalists work from Islamabad, but surely it is important for us to know how things are in our neighbourhood? The point is also made that some of these small countries do not provide sufficient news on a daily basis for a paper to keep a full time correspondent there. But there is no reason why a local journalist should not be employed, to keep the cost of maintaining a correspondent low.
The Hindu, for example, has a regular Russian serving it as its correspondent in Moscow. The only trouble is that no matter how objective a local correspondent is, he cannot be a substitute for an Indian stationed in a far-off country looking at events there from an Indian perspective. The saddest part of the current functioning of Indian media is that many newspapers don'thave their own correspondents even within India in different state capitals. Again, the excuse is that state news is covered extensively by Indian news agencies. The result is that the range of coverage is limited. News agencies can be chary of handling controversial issues and the reader is thus deprived of news from different angles.
But one heartening development is the publication of newspaper editions from different cities. Some of our leading newspapers like The Times of India and Hindustan Times bring out different editions from different cities to provide more extensive coverage of local news. The newest to enter this field is The Tribune which brings out editions from New Delhi, Jalandhar, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh and has now launched an edition from Bathinda. Or take Deccan Chronicle which is one of the largest English newspapers in Andhra Pradesh and has a strong presence there. For the last two years, it has been bringing out an edition in Chennai and is now planning to bring out an edition in Bangalore where it will be competing with the long-established Deccan Herald and The Times of India which have a 30 per cent and 45 per cent respectively of the market share. The competition will be stiff. When The Times of India took on the Deccan Herald it was with no holds barred. Bennett Coleman went all the way to capture what till then was a monopoly market. And it succeeded.
Meanwhile, it is fascinating to read what technological developments are doing to the media. Economic and Political Weekly (December 7), the only one of its kind in India which publishes research papers, has decided to follow a new practice noticed in several international journals which have moved away from closed ?Peer Review? towards an ?Open Review? process. In Open Reviews, anyone can comment on a paper submitted for publication. The idea, apparently, is to increase transparency in reviews as well as enhance participation and involvement of the research community. Now-a-days EPW occasionally posts a submission on its website and invites comments. Visitors to the EPW website and readers of the journal are encouraged to offer detailed comments. EPW will then discuss the comments with the author and a revised version will be processed for publication. Whether it is the right thing to do is open to question. Of course, a research paper is entirely different from an ordinary article. The latter airs only a writer'spersonal opinion; but a research paper can be questioned for its veracity to be established.
This is in some ways a revolutionary development. But times are changing. Who would have heard of such words as ?website?, ?visiting? a website, etc. in the late eighties or early nineties of the twentieth century? The same issue of EPW carries an article which is described as an effort to ?examine whether Office Open Extensible Markup Language (OOXML), a recently proposed open standard to describe data in a structured text format, word processing, is a case of ?technological lock-in??. It is hard to make sense of this but to GenNext, it is standard language. EPW is certainly keeping up with the times as technology takes over communication and communication adopts a new language. Shakespeare were he alive, would surely have been befuddled.