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What’s worth the news?

In my blog last week I wrote about the phenomenon of restaurants pushing feedback forms on diners.

Written by Amrita Shah |
July 27, 2009 3:43:59 pm

In my blog last week I wrote about the phenomenon of restaurants pushing feedback forms on diners. And a certain reader by the name of Ajith Kumar took umbrage at my choice of subject. I do not deny Mr Kumar’s right to his opinion,but his outraged response is based on certain assumptions that have a bearing on the media and readers and I think it is fruitful to discuss them.

If I can take the liberty of paraphrasing,Mr Kumar’s main contentions are as follows: one,that giving or not giving feedback in a restaurant is my personal problem and two,that it is not a subject fit for a ‘national newspaper’ .

Let me take up the second point first. What is a subject fit for a national newspaper?

If one looks back,one is likely to find no single answer. In the immediate post-Independence era,for instance,politics or rather political speeches were the mainstay of the front pages of major Indian newspapers. In the 70s and 80s,investigative journalism brought to the fore issues such as corruption (in areas such as cement allocation,for example) and destitution (say in stories on malnutrition and human trafficking).

The entry of women professionals in substantial numbers into the media and the rise of the feminist movement brought the phenomena of dowry deaths and environmental depredation into prominence and also provoked a rethink on traditional notions of what constituted a hard story (politics,defence) and a soft story (society).

Over the last two decades the divisions have been further blurred. What would you call an anchor piece on Kalam’s hair stylist for instance (hard or soft news)? And does news of Sanjay Dutt chatting with a mafia don belong to the glamour pages or the news pages? Indeed,the world over,an increasing focus on the private lives of politicians (French President Nicolas Sarkozy and wife Carla Bruni spending £660-a-day on fresh flowers,for instance,or Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s cavorting with young women) is an acknowledgement of the maxim that the personal is the political.

Now to come to the first point : it is widely acknowledged that we live in an increasingly intrusive society. The rights of an individual to privacy are in constant danger of being forfeited in the face of greater executive powers and the invasive tactics of marketers. Indeed,a person no less than the former head of the UK’s counter-intelligence and security agency MI5,recently attacked the sweeping use of ‘privacy-invading’ surveillance powers by the government. The aim of my blog last week,was both to highlight an emerging social trend (of collecting feedback from customers) and to use it to demonstrate a certain dichotomy in our behaviour as a society which is that while we agitate and go to court to prevent the intrusive behaviour of governments and marketers,in our everyday lives we often succumb too easily to demands on our privacy.

Is this not a subject fit for a national newspaper? Should communicators not try new ways of making abstract stories real for readers?

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